Olentangy Valley News

New lockers at Liberty fill demand -- for now

Shortage could return as school grows -- but leaders say it's not too crowded

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Olentangy Liberty High School students descending the staircases near the entrance to their school's library usually hit a roadblock.

There, an intersection of multiple, frequently used hallways acts as a bottleneck during class switches in the district's most-crowded school.

"It's almost a five-way intersection, so that's a very congested area," said Principal Randy Wright. "It's not that nobody can get through, but it does slow you down."

At their Oct. 23 meeting, school board members approved the installation of about 400 new lockers in the school's music and Industrial Technology hallways to accommodate the school's growing student body.

Overall, the district's enrollment is slowing somewhat, but it continues to add hundreds of new students each year.

The total student body grew by more than 700 students in 2012 for a districtwide enrollment topping 17,500, up from 16,766 in September 2011.

At Liberty High School, about 1,710 students are enrolled, but the school has just shy of 1,600 lockers. To cope, the school asks students to volunteer to share a locker with a friend, while others voluntarily forgo lockers and carry their books and supplies in their backpacks instead.

The additional lockers will create a surplus for just a few years. By the start of the 2016-17 school year, Liberty could have more than 2,100 students, according to enrollment projections.

That's well in excess of the original prescribed building capacity of 1,600 students.

Still, Wright and other district officials say the school isn't overcrowded just yet.

No full-time teachers at the school have to vacate their classrooms to accommodate other classes during the day, and the school has empty classrooms during every period, officials said.

School board members pointed out that crowded schools usually have more trouble finding space in common areas such as hallways and cafeterias, but Wright said his school's lunchroom is in good shape.

It is below capacity during every period, and the lunch lines speed students through by the first half of the 30-minute lunch periods, Wright said.

He added he hasn't heard complaints from teachers or students about getting to class on time in the five minutes between periods.

But looking ahead, he said the school eventually might have to adopt strategies to get hallway traffic moving, such as designating certain stairwells for students going up and others for those going down.

"If nothing changes in the next three years, we're going to need to find different ways to accommodate for the needs and safety of our students," he said.

The district's other two high schools are less crowded.

Olentangy High School Principal Tom McDonnell said his school has plenty of lockers and space for its 1,400 students, though like the other two high schools, its student body is projected to grow by about 100 students each year for the next four years.

Orange High School, which has a layout identical to Liberty's, boasts lots of elbow room, with about 270 fewer students than Liberty.

"We don't have any space issues, but we do expect the growth trend to continue," said Principal Todd Meyer.

"Fortunately, we're extremely collaborative in this district, so we'll look at the experiences of Liberty and see if there are things we could be doing in the future."

The 2012-13 school year marked the first time since 2002 the district did not open any new school buildings, and just the third time in the last 19 years.

In the past year, officials have contemplated ways to delay the need for new schools, such as building add-ons and leasing space in other existing buildings.

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