The Licking Heights school board is trying to figure out how to handle the district's rapid growth.

The Licking Heights school board is trying to figure out how to handle the district's rapid growth.

The district is one of the fastest-growing in the state, according to district officials, having grown by 14.4 percent between 2007 and 2008. After next school year, all of its buildings are expected to be over capacity.

Board members met in a special session March 23 at Licking Heights High School to discuss the district's future and how best to handle the projected growth.

"You start with key communicators to help spread the word," Superintendent Thomas Tucker said.

Board members are compiling a concise list of the district's present and future needs and then will engage the community in several public meetings. Board members said they want as much community input as possible before any decisions are made. They'll decide during the April board meeting when the first community forum should be held -- likely in May.

Board member Richard Wand said the board needs to present well-defined problems to the public so the district could receive informed answers. Major issues include whether to build consolidated campus-style facilities or community facilities distributed throughout the district (as they are now), what to do about athletics and auditorium facilities, how to address staff training, warehouse and maintenance facilities needs and busing, which currently is a major concern.

"I don't think anyone doubts we need buses," said Matt Satterwhite, board vice president. He said 80 percent of the district's 3,100 students are transported with 44 buses.

Wand asked how that compared to other districts.

Tucker said most districts transport roughly 60 percent of their students. He said Licking Heights' percentage is so high that the Ohio Department of Education calls him to verify it. "It's the geography," Tucker said, adding that Licking Heights transfers more high-schoolers than most other schools in the state. The district is vast, the buildings are spread, and Licking Heights High School was built in the middle of a cornfield, with few sidewalks, he said.

"It's a safety issue," said Wand, adding that it could be unsafe for some students to walk to school, especially in the dark.

It's also an attendance issue, Tucker said. He said the high school attendance rate is below 93 percent.

"We're going to suffer attendance if we limit busing," he said.

Board member Sharon Cochrum said pulling together the campus would help the district. "Our footprint's not conducive to neighborhood schools," she said.

Wand said it's tough to know where to build a campus-style facility. "We don't know where the next big neighborhood's going to be," he said. Wand said there's little room to build on Waggoner Road. There's room on Taylor Road for a high school, but no more buildings, he said. "You can't build everything right there," he said.

Tucker said there's space on Summit Road for a campus-style complex, but there has been no formal discussion of exactly where.

"We're not going to get the perfect situation," he said, hence the importance of beginning the community dialogue as soon as possible.

The district has partnered with Cincinnati-based SHP Leading Design consultants, but Tucker reiterated that the board has made no decisions about future facilities, nor would it until it receives plenty of public input.

"You don't want the public to think the board's already made up its mind," he said.

Satterwhite said there's no construction timeline yet; it's more important to decide what to build and where to build it than when to build. He said the board's immediate goal is to present the district's issues to the community. "We don't want to hide any of our problems," he said.