Worthington Schools leaders face a threefold dilemma as student enrollment outpaces aging buildings, but fixing facility needs won't be easy, with cost estimates well above $150 million.

"We have three significant needs that will have to be addressed in the near future," said Treasurer Jeff McCuen. "Those are aging facilities, balancing high schools and capacity in buildings."

The needs make a bond request likely in 2018 or 2019, he said.

And that might not be all.

McCuen said he could not speak for school board members, but a combination of a levy and a bond issue could be possible for November 2018. He had said in May that voters could be asked for an operating levy, permanent-improvements levy and a bond issue as early as next year.

According to the latest five-year financial forecast, district expenditures are projected to exceed revenue by $379,958 in 2018. The gap between revenue and expenses is projected to widen to $11.8 million by 2020.

Facilities needs

Many of the district buildings are more than 50 years old, including Thomas Worthington High School, which is where the "balancing act" kicks in, said Superintendent Trent Bowers.

Thomas Worthington has 1,740 students and Worthington Kilbourne High School has 1,250 students.

"Enrollment growth at Thomas Worthington could soon exceed the capacity of the school," he said. "We either need to add on to Thomas Worthington or move some student attendance areas to Worthington Kilbourne."

Thomas Worthington's capacity is 1,944, according to the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission's assessment report.

Enrollment has increased by more than 1,000 students in the past five years, according to district leaders. Total enrollment is 10,201 this year, but 800 more students are expected over the next five years, Bowers said.

In 2015, an OFCC report put a price tag on the district's facilities needs at about $250 million. It said a number of aging buildings should be replaced or extensively remodeled.

A community task force has been studying buildings and crunching numbers for the past year. It ended up with lower cost estimates, but the total cost is still $160 million to $166 million.

McCuen said any final facilities plan would be "broken into phases" for practicality.

"We currently have a debt limitation set by the state, which indicates we can only issue approximately $100 million in bonds," he said. "The plan would be long term to ensure we could make changes along the way, depending on what we experience in enrollment capacity, as well as the condition of our facilities."

He said a ballot issue is likely in the next two years.

"I would anticipate being on the ballot for a bond issue to fund the first phase of the master plan, once it has been decided upon," he said.

The amount of that bond issue is still to be determined.

"We really have to wait for the task force to complete (its) recommendation before we can develop a funding plan," he said. "We know the upper limit is $100 million, but I don't think we will ask for that much at one time."

Weighing costs

The first phase of the proposed task-force plan is estimated to cost $62.6 million to $72.7 million.

It would include replacing or remodeling a number of schools, including Colonial Hills Elementary School, Kilbourne Middle School and Thomas Worthington.

Bowers said he expects a final recommendation from the facilities task force this fall.

School board members said during a meeting Aug. 28 they want the task force to look at building needs again.

"What can we do to lower phase-one cost?" asked board member Sam Shim.

He said a community survey revealed that of two possible options created by the task force, most people liked the less expensive one, with a total first-phase cost of $62.6 million, compared to the plan that cost $72.7 million.

Board member Charlie Wilson said he hoped the community would understand the district could not continue "the status quo."

"We offer a tremendous product and must have buildings that our parents want to send their kids to," he said.

Julie Keegan said the facilities fix could also be looked at as "an opportunity."

"We have to solve this problem, but is this also an opportunity to do what we've been wanting to do?" she asked.

Learn more about the district's facilities plan at worthington.k12.oh.us.

pwillis@thisweeknews.com

@PamelaThisWeek