While the next segment of South-Western City Schools Ohio Facilities Construction Commission project will focus on middle schools, district officials are planning to take additional steps to address rapid growth in enrollment at the elementary-school level.
A project to build an addition to the new Bolton Crossing Elementary School, 2695 Holt Road, is expected to begin late this month or in April, Superintendent Bill Wise said.
In addition, the school board will be asked to approve reopening East Franklin Elementary School, 1955 Richmond Road in Columbus.
The actions will add 28 classrooms in grades K-4 and help relieve the pinch indicated by updated projections that show enrollment at six of the district's 15 elementary schools will exceed building capacity.
Those schools are Bolton Crossing, Finland, Harmon, Prairie Lincoln, J.C. Sommer and Stiles.
The Bolton Crossing addition, which will include 10 regular and two special-needs classrooms, is expected to be completed by January 2019.
As part of the project, a new and expanded playground will be installed at the school, more parking will be added and the location of the bus drop-off point will move, said Mike Dingeldein, an architect with SHP Leading Design who is working with the district on the project and has also been part of the OFCC project.
For the 2017-18 school year, "there are no classrooms designed to be K-4 classrooms that are not currently occupied," Deputy Superintendent David Stewart said.
Some traditional classrooms that might have provided space are being used instead to house special-needs classes or pre-kindergarten classes to keep up with the student populations in those areas, he said.
"The elementary level is where our (classroom) needs are most acute," Stewart said.
The October count showed South-Western's K-12 enrollment at 22,082 students, he said.
The district is expecting enrollment to total about 22,437 students next school year, Stewart said.
The projections show that 253 of the projected 355 new students will be enrolled at elementary schools, he said.
"The big 'X' factor is kindergarten. We had an unbelievable growth (in students registering for kindergarten) in August (2017)," Stewart said.
It's possible the same sort of situation may occur next summer, "so the numbers could fluctuate and could grow," he said.
The first segment of the district's OFCC project included construction of 13 new elementary school buildings and the renovation of Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods elementary schools.
About half the cost of the $260 million project, which also included construction of a new Franklin Heights High School, was paid for by the OFCC.
A bond issue voters approved in 2012 covered the rest of the cost.
Under the terms of an OFCC project agreement, a district must use the metrics and enrollment projections provided by the commission, Stewart said.
South-Western held on to East Franklin Elementary and didn't demolish the building because local officials believed the OFCC enrollment projections were too low, Wise said.
The OFCC projected enrollment for the 2017-18 school year would total 21,682 students, which is 400 students fewer than the actual count in October.
"Their numbers didn't reflect the growth we've seen historically in the district," Wise said. "We anticipated more growth."
So the district decided to mothball one of its elementary school buildings in case it was needed.
East Franklin "was the elementary building that was in the best shape structurally and mechanically," Wise said.
The district will seek to re-open East Franklin next school year, pending school board approval, he said. The school will provide 18 classrooms.
A project to renovate the school to upgrade its roofing, heating and air conditioning system and technology to the level of the new elementary buildings will be conducted over three summers, Wise said.
Similar improvements were made at Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods.
The cost of the improvements at East Franklin would be included in a bond issue for the next phase of the OFCC project.
If voters approve the bond issue planned for November 2018, the project would include construction of new buildings at Brookpark, Pleasant View, Norton and Finland middle schools and renovations at Jackson Middle School.
The initial estimation of the total cost of that project is about $162 million.
The co-funded portion of the cost would total about $124 million, with the OFCC providing half (or about $62 million) and the district the same amount. South-Western would also be responsible for about $37.6 million in estimated Locally Funded Initiatives costs.
"It's a scope of work that a school district elects to fund separately from the project co-funded by the state. They (LFI costs) add higher quality and value to the buildings, which our community has told us they want," said Sandy Nekoloff, the district's executive director of communications.
Design plans for the new buildings are still being drawn up.
The process will include providing information to and seeking feedback from the community to help lead to a final design plan, Dingeldein said.
The school board would need to approve resolutions in July and August to put a bond issue on the November 2018 ballot.
That bond issue would likely involve no new millage, as was the case with the last OFCC bond issue, said Hugh Garside, district treasurer.
A survey conducted in November 2017 by Fallon Research and Communications showed that there is "high support" in the community for a no-new-millage bond issue, Nekoloff said.
"No new millage is much more attractive than even a slight increase (in taxes)," she said.
"People in our community know that's how we built our new elementary schools."
The focus of the next phase of the OFCC will be on middle schools.
The district will have to wait awhile to address facility needs at Grove City and Westland high schools, Wise said.
The OFCC has indicated the amount of money it has available for its classroom facilities assistance program is not enough to allow South-Western to include the high schools in its next phase, he said.
OFCC funds for the high schools would not be available until the 2021-22 state biennial budget, at the earliest, Wise said.
The Bolton Crossing addition is being paid for using funds left from the first segment of the OFCC project, which came in under budget.