Although an operating levy is still a way off, the South-Western City School District is expecting to go to the ballot in 2018 to seek funding for the next round of its Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project.

The district will work with the OFCC over the next several months to finalize plans for the next segment of the project, which will include construction of new buildings to replace Brookpark, Finland, Norton and Pleasant View middle schools and the renovation of Jackson Middle School.

"The OFCC has updated their assessment of all our middle schools as well as Westland and Grove City high schools," Superintendent Bill Wise said. "In almost all of the cases, the OFCC has concluded that it makes more sense to replace those buildings than to attempt to renovate them because of the condition of the existing infrastructures."

In most cases, the middle schools were built in the 1950s or 1960s, he said.

"Technology has changed and the standards for safety and security of our buildings have changed significantly as well since then, as have the programs we're delivering to students," Wise said.

The space required for special-needs classes has changed markedly since the schools were built, he said.

As with the first phase that focused mostly on elementary schools, the district will hold community-engagement meetings to gather feedback about what features families would like to see included in the new schools, Wise said.

A facilities bond issue is being planned for the November 2018 ballot, but there is still no need for an operating levy, Treasurer Hugh Garside said.

"Our anticipated revenues and expenditures are on target and our forecast continues to show us with a healthy ending-cash balance equaling six or seven months of operating expenses," he said.

South-Western continues to maintain "a very high AA credit rating, Garside said.

"What that says to investors is that we are a good risk for them," he said.

The district will be able to refinance some of its existing bond debt to speed up its repayment of existing debt, he said.

Garside said his forecast shows the district will continue to have a positive ending-cash balance through 2022.

The first segment of the OFCC project was completed under budget, and the cost savings will be able to pay for the construction of an annex to Bolton Crossing Elementary School, Wise said.

Groundbreaking is expected to take place in late March for the annex, which will be able to house 10 regular classrooms and two special-needs classrooms and handle about 275 students, he said.

"We're seeing continued growth in enrollment," Wise said, with the number anticipated to increase by 400 students next school year.

"We wanted to wait until we completed the first segment of the OFCC project before we committed to the annex, to make sure we could afford it," he said.

"We also held onto and mothballed the old East Franklin Elementary building" because of the anticipated enrollment increase, he said.

That building will be renovated and reopened as part of the next phase of the OFCC project, Wise said. It will help provide additional space for a special-education preschool, public preschool and Head Start programs, he said.

Exactly how the space in the Bolton Crossing annex will be allocated is still to be determined, Wise said.

Construction of the annex is expected to be completed in late January or February 2019 and open at the start of the 2019-20 school year, he said.

Any scope of the next facilities project beyond the four new middle school buildings and renovations to Jackson and East Franklin is possible, but also remains to be determined, Wise said.

South-Western is considering adding at least one career-technical education program for the 2018-19 school year at the career academy, he said.

The programs under consideration are State Tested Nursing Assistant, logistics, construction, and customer service and support with a bilingual component.

"We're exploring all four programs, but we don't anticipate implementing all four of them," Wise said.

The cost of implementation and the level of student interest will be among the major factors determining which could be added, he said.