The time has come to re-evaluate Licking Heights' master plan, according to Superintendent Philip Wagner.

The time has come to re-evaluate Licking Heights' master plan, according to Superintendent Philip Wagner.

He said the school board asked him Nov. 15 to review student enrollment, how it is increasing and how it relates to the master plan, which details strategies for modification and expansion of the district's schools. Members also asked him to address how student enrollment and economic conditions will affect how the district will manage its facilities.

Wagner said he would try to predict how enrollment will affect the district over the next four to five years and present his findings to the board at a future meeting.

Wagner said he is concerned about an increase in the number of elementary students and the fourth-grade alignment: The fourth-grade class is split between the North and South elementary school buildings. He wants to consolidate the fourth-grade class into one building.

"If we reconfigure the district and reconstitute the fourth grade, I think it'll make a lot of people happy," he said.

Wagner said consolidating the fourth grade would require reorganizing teachers and staff among the buildings.

"There's a lot of detail that goes into this," he said.

As of the 2012-2013 school year, West Elementary School will have 11 additional classrooms open, which Wagner said will help him reconfigure the buildings.

He said the new addition to West Elementary should cost roughly $5.8 million when complete, or possibly less. The 25,000-square-foot addition was projected to cost $6 million.

"The district's done a good job managing growth," said Wagner. "We have to deal with this elementary bubble."

As the size of the elementary student body increases, Wagner said, the district will be pressured to expand its middle school facilities in the short term and its high school facilities in the long term.

He said eventually, Licking Heights would need to build a new high school and use the current high school for middle school classes. However, he said, that is a long-term project and he expects the Ohio School Facilities Commission to fund a significant portion of it. He said the district would need to deal with increasing enrollment one project at a time.

"We are a board that believes in having a strong plan to succeed," said board president Matt Satterwhite. "You don't succeed by mistake, you plan for it. Our growing student population tells us that we need more space and that we are swelling at the elementary and early middle school grades."

He said board members began discussions and community meetings last summer to clarify its community vision for building in the district and developed some goals. These included devising a building configuration that best promotes learning; working out a plan to consolidate the fourth grade into one building; and ensuring any future building enabled the district to bring home special-needs students currently being educated elsewhere due to a lack of facilities.

Finally, Satterwhite said, board members wanted to identify short-term needs but remain focused on the long-term plan for success in the district.
"From our guiding principles, we decided to take advantage of the already passed permanent-improvement levy and secure $10 million in low-to-no-interest bonds to address an initial step," Satterwhite said. "That money was secured with no need to go to the voters for additional money."

He said the district's fiscal team utilized its existing funds to secure $10 million to address growth.

"We started with an expansion of (West Elementary) and are looking to see what is best done with the rest," Satterwhite said. "The dollars are required to be spent by September of 2013, so we are on the clock."

Satterwhite said that, in order to determine how best to spend the initial money, board members developed the master building plan based on the enrollment projections at the time to address projected overcrowding. The plan began with the West project and concludes with a new high school.

"The district is poised to receive some assistance from the state school building fund in the coming years, but we do not control it if that is four, five, six or seven years away," he said.

Satterwhite said the board will have two new members when Sharon Cochrum's and Chuck Seeright's terms expire Dec. 31. Brian Bagley and Nicole Roth were elected to their seats Nov. 8 after Cochrum and Seeright did not seek re-election.

"Now we need to relook at the new enrollment numbers and get the fresh input of the two new members to determine if the direction previously determined is the best path for the community and education," he said.

Satterwhite said board members would review the work already done and develop options moving forward, focusing their attention on addressing current needs while ensuring a long-term plan is in place.

Treasurer Jennifer Vanover said the original master plan was generated in 2000, when Licking Heights High School was constructed.

"It has gone through many changes over the past 10 years," she said. "The master plan that (Wagner) is working from was generated last summer."

Vanover said the plan was used to provide direction on the usage of the $10 million in the no-to-low-interest bonds that Satterwhite referenced.

"Now that the West addition is under way, the board continues to evaluate the best possible use for the remaining dollars," she said. "As the board continues to review the master plan, with new input from (Wagner) and two new board members, I anticipate that the plan will continue to evolve."