I recently read an article in the Columbus Dispatch about a group that is questioning whether the costs of school repairs and remodeling are good for Grandview City Schools. Grandview Schools, like Worthington, Columbus, Upper Arlington and Westerville are all school districts with aging infrastructure and like us they are working on a plan to address their needs.
While we all have similar needs with aging buildings, an increase in student enrollment, etc… each school district has created a plan that they believe works best for their community. Upper Arlington recently passed a massive $230 million bond issue to replace their high school and renovate all schools. Columbus City Schools has replaced 19 buildings over the past decade. Grandview and Westerville are working on their plans.
In Worthington, our plan began in 2015 with a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. This State of Ohio organization brought teams of architects and construction experts to walk each Worthington school. They provided individual assessments of every system within our schools. Based upon the OFCC reports, we learned that to bring our schools up to a statewide standard we needed $260 million worth of replacements and renovations.
After receiving the OFCC assessments, we partnered with Cooperative Strategies to create a facilities master plan. Sixty-one community members invested 18 months to create a plan that would address our aging buildings, balance high school enrollment and create capacity for all students. (Our enrollment has grown by 1,000 students in the last five years and is projected to continue to grow by another 800 students in the next five years.)
We intend to come forward with this plan in phases. Phase One would require funding of approximately $70 million dollars. (There will be additional dollars needed for technology and buses.) This would provide capacity for our elementary schools by moving 6th grade to the middle school. It would address our aging buildings by rebuilding Worthingway Middle School and Perry Middle School (Perry would reopen as a 6-8 grade middle school, while Phoenix and Worthington Academy remain on that site). The plan balances high school enrollment by moving to 4 traditional middle schools (plus Phoenix) with two middle schools feeding to each high school and by moving a current TWHS feeder elementary to the WKHS feeder pattern.
This is just Phase One of our plan. We’ll propose to come back to the community in 2022 with Phase Two of the plan and likely back again around 2026 with Phase Three of the plan. By phasing the work we are able to maintain our state mandated debt limits and hopefully make the work more affordable for community members.
Certainly, Phase One does not solve every issue in Worthington. As our enrollment continues to climb, we have multiple elementary schools that have exceeded their capacity. Redistricting our students is not an option that will solve our capacity issues because all schools are utilizing their full allotment of classroom space (even Sutter Park and Phoenix). Therefore, we will continue to overflow students to other schools when they enroll in a specific grade level without space. We have already added modular classrooms at Colonial Hills and Worthington Hills and until Phase One of our plan is complete (Fall of 2021), we will add modular classrooms at schools as they are needed. We project that we will need to add modulars at multiple schools over the next several years.
Like our neighbors in other inner-ring suburbs, we see student enrollment growth as families choose to live in these desirable communities. At the same time we have aging infrastructure that has to be addressed for the long-term health of our school districts and ultimately the desirability of our communities.
We’re excited about our community driven plan and look forward to partnering with our community over the next decade to make it a reality.
-Trent Bowers, Superintendent