The work of the community-led task force created for the purpose of master facilities planning for Worthington Schools has concluded. The task force has presented its recommendations to the Worthington school board with a three-phase, comprehensive plan.

Thank you to the hundreds of community members who provided feedback and volunteered countless hours to the effort. This truly is the community's plan for the future of our schools.

The goal of the master facilities plan is to identify solutions for our most urgent facility and operational needs, including caring for our aging facilities; managing for enrollment fluctuations; and balancing high school enrollment so students throughout the district are provided with equitable opportunities no matter which high school they attend.

We often refer to these challenges – aging facilities, balancing high school enrollment and capacity for all – as the ABCs of facilities planning. Here's why:

* Worthington Schools' enrollment has increased by 1,000 students over the past five years, and independent reports indicate the district will grow by another 800 students over the next five years. Worthington currently is in the top 10 school districts for enrollment growth in the entire state of Ohio.

* We have some buildings that are well past the half-century mark, with infrastructure and mechanical systems that are near or beyond their working lifespan and are becoming more costly to maintain. Without a plan, these increasing costs could affect funding in the classroom.

* We are facing a growing unbalance in our high school enrollment. Currently, Thomas Worthington High School has 1,740 students and Worthington Kilbourne High School has 1,250 students. We expect both high schools will increase in enrollment over the next several years, and in the case of Thomas Worthington, the growth will exceed the capacity of the building.

For our increasing enrollment, the master facilities plan recommends the school district change elementary configuration to kindergarten to fifth grade, with sixth-graders going to the middle school. Moving sixth-graders creates the needed capacity at the elementary level.

This decision was based on community feedback collected through online and telephone surveys, which indicated the majority of our community members preferred this option. A big benefit to this plan is the school district can keep neighborhoods together and minimize redistricting, as well.

The district also will reopen Perry Middle School and expand the facility so that we can continue to offer the valued programs Phoenix Alternative Middle School and Worthington Academy.

To address aging school buildings, Phase 1 of the plan will rebuild Worthingway Middle School and renovate all other middle schools – buildings that are in need of immediate repair. In addition, all schools will receive needed technology and equipment upgrades.

Phase 2 will include repairs and renovations at Thomas Worthington, and elementary-building replacements and renovations will be considered in Phase 2 and Phase 3.

To balance high school enrollments, the plan recommends moving an elementary school attendance area from Thomas Worthington to Worthington Kilbourne.

The decision of which elementary will move to the Kilbourne attendance area has not been decided; further discussion and evaluation of elementary schools is needed.

Over the next several months, district leaders will continue to work with the community to decide what the future holds for our schools and the possibility of a bond and operating-levy request in 2018.

It is our hope that we can all work together and decide what it takes to maintain and protect excellence in both our community and schools – something that is important to all of us.

Trent Bowers is superintendent of Worthington Schools. Contact him by email at tbowers@wscloud.org or by phone at 614-450-6000.