As Worthington students head into winter break, district leaders are mulling how to respond to recommendations made by the district's facilities-planning task force.

The task force was created last fall and tasked with studying Worthington's increasing enrollment, aging facilities and needs for the future. The task force unveiled its findings and recommendations for the master facilities plan to the school board Dec. 11.

In a presentation that included breakdowns of each of the district's buildings and student demographics, the task force made three primary recommendations: working on the district's "aging buildings," balancing enrollment at the high schools and "creating capacity for all our students."

District spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda said the board is expected to make decisions on facilities-related topics by February. The board's next meeting is Jan. 8 and the annual State of the Schools address is Feb. 7.

For Superintendent Trent Bowers, "there was no surprise" for him or school board members at the Dec. 11 meeting.

"Our board has been apprised ... throughout the 15-month process," he said. "I think they received the plan well. The next steps will be to determine what we ask for (as) a funding mechanism from the community. That will determine which parts of the plan ... or if all of the plan goes forward from here."

Bowers said the school district likely would need to ask for funding from Worthington residents in 2018, although that's not explicitly stated in the master facility plan.

"I would expect sometime in 2018, we're on the ballot for a bond issue and an operating levy to pay for this plan and to run our general operations," he said. "The question is when and for how much money, and those are obviously fairly major questions."

Bowers said that decision would need to come "fairly soon" and is at the forefront of district leaders' minds.

But Bowers and the school board also would need to respond to smaller specific recommendations, such as moving sixth-graders to the middle-school level or rebuilding Worthingway Middle School.

Those decisions, along with nailing down specifics of a bond issue and an operating levy, would be the main short-term responses to the plan, according to Bowers.

In the meantime, he said, the district would continue prioritizing outreach to residents in hopes that no one is caught off-guard by the funding requests.

Part of that outreach is the public nature of the task force and its plan, which already has been well received, Bowers said.

"The reactions we've had have been very positive," he said. "People see the plan as conservative. They believe it fits Worthington and it does make some progress in each of the three areas we're attempting to meet. But obviously, the proof will be in the pudding from a funding standpoint."

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