A new enrollment forecast predicts the Olentangy Local School District will continue to grow rapidly -- but at less than the 1,000-students-a-year pace of the past decade.
At its Nov. 29 meeting, the school board reviewed an annual enrollment report prepared by consulting firm DeJong-Healy.
It maintained the district's rapid expansion is slowing somewhat, with enrollment set to plateau around 2020.
For the 2012-13 school year, the district added about 700 students, bringing total enrollment up to 17,752.
But that's fewer new enrollments than in prior years. The district added 870 students in the 2011-12 school year and 952 students for 2010-11.
The latest report projects the student body will plateau at around 21,050 students for the 2020-21 school year.
That's also down slightly from prior reports that projected the district would plateau in 2020 with about 22,000 students.
DeJong-Healy President Tracy Healy said lagging projections for kindergarten enrollment are largely responsible for the drop. She also said development in the district has been flat.
Overall, the projections for continued growth are lower than in the past decade, when the district routinely added more than 1,000 students each year.
That's reflected in the district's construction agenda, which includes no new buildings for at least the next several years. In fact, 2012 marked the first year with no new school buildings since 2002.
But with the national economy on the mend, district development committee Chairman Ralph Au said there is some uncertainty in the model.
"If we see a housing spike and building is starting to go back up, we probably will need to adjust that birth-to-kindergarten ratio," he said.
He added new data suggests older neighborhoods may be turning over faster than previously predicted, with new families bringing new students.
In any case, the district will remain Ohio's fastest-growing next year, a distinction it has earned for nine years straight, according to the report. It currently is the seventh-largest district in the state.
"We still continue to see an increase," Healy said. "It was a little bit down this year, but certainly we're still growing."
Finding space for new and current students will continue to be a struggle for years to come, officials said.
In recent months, the school board has debated the right enrollment levels for the district's three high schools in an effort to fend off the need for extra buildings.
At Liberty High School, about 1,710 students are enrolled -- well in excess of the original prescribed building capacity of 1,600 students.
But the district's high school principals say the buildings still have plenty of additional classroom space for students.
"We need an updated view of what capacity really means," said board member Kevin O'Brien at the Nov. 29 meeting. "It's easier to determine elementary capacity, but when you get to the middle and high schools, there's more flexibility in student schedules. We've got to get our arms around that.
"Are we going to build a fourth high school? Not if I can help it," O'Brien added.