Licking County News

Licking Heights

Wand: Money to build new high school might be available soon

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Licking Heights school board member Richard Wand said July 11 the district should know soon if it is possible to build a new high school sooner than expected and without asking voters for more money in the wake of having an 8.9-mill levy approved about two months ago.

"We hope to know within a couple weeks," Wand said.

He said the district is exchanging information with the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which informed the district some state funding for a new high school building could be available right now.

"We don't know whether we can do this or not," Wand said.

Superintendent Philip Wagner said Licking Heights is in line to receive state money for a high school next summer. However, some "off-cycle" funding is available, and the district would need to to scramble with the OSFC to determine the size and needs for a new building.

Wand said, a new high school building would cost roughly $50 million.

If the state funding comes through in the off cycle, the district might need to raise $8 million. He emphasized that figure also was an estimate.

Wand said the district might be able to finance its share creatively by using funding from the 1.9-mill permanent-improvements levy and money set aside but not used from previous building projects, such as West and South elementary schools.

Also, he said, the district has accumulated interest money from a bond issue used to help fund those projects, which could help fund the new high school building.

Wand said, however, that many variables remain as the OSFC determines what it is willing to fund and when.

The bottom line, he said, is there are many "ifs" as to whether building a new high school without a bond issue could ever happen, but the district needs a new high school building within a few years, regardless.

Wand said the 2013-14 senior class has about 230 students, but the fifth-grade class has 325.

"Every class gets a little bit tighter," he said.

Wand said the current high school was built for 900 students, and it's already roughly 60 students over capacity. Within two to three years, he said, the high school will be overcrowded.

The OSFC only funds classroom space and will not contribute toward the construction of auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias and common areas, Ward said. It would be the district's responsibility to pay for those.

One option, among many, would be to build a new auditorium, cafeteria, heating system and other necessary components to accommodate about 1,800 students, but only build enough classroom space to for 1,300, with the intent to add a classroom wing at a later date.

It would be irresponsible, Wagner said, to build a school in which the auditorium, gymnasium and related facilities would be quickly over capacity. New classrooms could always be added, but increasing the size of auditoriums and cafeterias would be expensive.

Wagner said the board is exploring options to build a school with no or little new money from the taxpayers, and it may be able to do so because of good fiscal management and credit.

He said the district is also looking into raising money through philanthropic means, such as naming a field or wing for a significant donor.

"It's a different process from what other (districts) do," he said, adding that it's a "knee-jerk reaction" for many districts to go to the ballot whenever new facilities are necessary.

If the off-cycle funding comes through, Wagner said, through an aggressive construction schedule, the district could have a new high school building ready for students by fall 2017.

Wagner agreed that many variables remain regarding the district's ability to fund a new high school with little or no money from voters.

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