Westerville News & Public Opinion

Options for closed Longfellow, Central College


Westerville City School District administrators on Feb. 25 answered a question that has been floating around the community for nearly a year: What will become of the currently vacant Longfellow and Central College elementary school buildings?

Administrators presented an option for each building to the school board Feb. 25. The buildings were closed at the end of last year as the district began shutting down its magnet program as a result of the levy failure in November 2011.

While no vote was taken on the "supposals," board members asked administrators to move forward in creating more detailed proposals for both programs.

At Central College, 825 S. Sunbury Road, the district could house an intervention program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade who have severe behavioral, emotional and mental-health disabilities.

The district is required to provide services to those students, but it currently pays to have them educated at special facilities outside the district.

The district would staff the school with employees trained in crisis prevention and intervention, and would have a teacher and two educational assistants for a maximum of eight students per classroom, said Barb Wallace, executive director of pupil services.

The employees used for the program would be ones already working in the district, meaning the program would be run without hiring additional personnel, Wallace said.

The district projects that it would cost $548,000 to send students out of district for services next year, compared with a projected cost of $298,000 for running the program at Central College, meaning the district would save about $250,000 by providing in-house services for those students, Wallace said.

It's not feasible to house such a program within the district's traditional schools, Wallace said, because that environment is overwhelming to the students in the program, which is why they are sent to outside facilities now.

"This environment, everyone would be trained to work with these students, which would enable us to be able to provide service for them at a much deeper level," Wallace said.

The Longfellow building, 120 Hiawatha Ave., could be used to house two programs: an alternative middle-school "learning center" and the Best of Both Worlds, an existing program for students between the ages of 18 and 22 with multiple disabilities who still require transitional services from the district.

The Best of Both Worlds is seeking a new location because the house it currently operates out of was owned by a local church but has been sold, said Machelle Kline, district director of assessment and alternative education services.

The students in the program work in the community and spend time being mentored by Otterbein University students and attending Otterbein events, and they need a space close to Uptown to serve as their "home base," Kline said.

The "Longfellow Learning Center" would provide a customized learning environment and innovative programs in a smaller environment, Kline said. The goal of the program would be to attract students whose parents are choosing to send them to charter or community schools as alternatives to traditional middle school.

A telephone survey of parents who homeschool or send their children to charter schools indicated they want flexibility, customization and convenience in a middle-school program, Kline said.

Currently, Westerville City schools are losing $5 million to charter and community schools, Kline said.

"The dollar amount leaving Westerville City Schools and going toward charter and community schools can be better invested right here in our community," Kline said.

The total cost of housing both programs at Longfellow would be $437,000, Kline said, but it would be balanced by a savings of $438,000 if the district could attract 40 middle school students back from community or charter schools.