The Westerville City School District is kicking off a community involvement phase as it seeks public feedback about a plan for its oldest facilities.

The first of seven meetings will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, at McVay Elementary School, 270 S. Hempstead Road.

Superintendent John Kellogg will discuss current district facilities and the findings of a community facilities committee, which were shared with the school board during last month's meeting.

Facilities director Jeff LaRose said the committee looked at buildings 55 years old and over and met seven times, beginning in July 2017, and toured selected schools.

The committee looked at cost options ranging from building replacement to renovations and discussed no new taxes to a community-approved bond issue.

Participants also considered growth opportunities with the potential to add instructional space on the southern end of the district where there is the highest density of students and fewest schools.

Those areas include about 50 acres east of Farview Drive across from Hawthorne and 14.7 acres on the former Minerva Park Golf Course.

LaRose said the committee looked at an enrollment update, forecasting increases by fiscal year 2027: a 140-student increase at the elementary level from this year's enrollment, with 227 at the middle school level and 346 at the high school.

The facilities committee, comprised of 27 members including parents, business leaders and municipality leaders, recommended work under three priority levels: critical, important and when funds allows.

Recommendations

Liz Washburn, committee member and president of Westerville Parent Council, told the school board the recommendations are made being mindful of producing a fiscally responsible plan allowing work on multiple buildings without additional tax money.

The work would provide for a capacity of an additional 1,330 students and impacts a minimum of seven school buildings.

Of critical importance is Westerville South High School, which was completed in 1960.

Washburn said the group looked at information from district administrators ranging from different renovations starting at $13 million and several in between up to a rebuild of $51 million.

She said the committee recommends a full renovation with a $34 million proposal, allowing for 21st century design, needed building updates and necessary expansion.

Washburn said a major renovation would be possible and still allow priorities to move forward in other buildings as well.

The committee also rated the addition of a new middle school as critical, with property across from Hawthorne being the most feasible for a middle school complex, Washburn said.

"It allows students on the south end of district to be served," Washburn told the board.

The committee also rated continued safety improvements, such as parking lot lights, as critical.

Jack Brown, of Westerville Partners for Education and the facilities committee, detailed what was rated as important and when funds allow.

On the important tier are the renovation and expansion of aging elementary schools.

He said that includes renovation and expansion of Longfellow and Whittier elementary schools and the renovation of Hawthorne Elementary School, with capacity increases between the three schools being 450 students.

Also important is the recommendation to add a new Minerva Park elementary school.

Brown said a new elementary would allow students in the south side of the district to have a neighborhood school. It would serve existing students who are currently being bused elsewhere and new families moving into the area.

Also rated as important is the committee's recommendation to sell Hanby and Emerson elementary schools and redistribute the student population to other Westerville schools.

Brown said the committee would defer to the district on proper housing of magnet programming.

He said the selling of the buildings could potentially offset $7 million in other building improvements.

Also rated as important is having Central College land for a potential new elementary building in the future.

The aging building is currently being leased, but the land is considered valuable for future needs, he said.

Also rated as important is the exploration of how to accommodate all-day kindergarten to eliminate a waiting list for families choosing all-day kindergarten.

On the "when funding permit" list is the renovation and expansion of Annehurst Elementary School, along with exploring how to accommodate new magnate opportunities.

Community input

Kellogg said the recommendations are clear and a starting point for conversation.

He said the costs are estimates, not actual numbers. Kellogg said there's opportunity for a no new-tax option, and the district has the ability to leverage its permanent improvement levy, which brings in $9 million annually.

But, he said, the opening of a new school would eventually require operational costs.

He said the recommendations add capacity on the south end of the district.

There are roughly 6,600 of the district's 15,000 students in the area south of Interstate 270, where there are currently two elementary schools -- Huber Ridge and Hawthorne -- serving 1,100 students.

The complete facilities committee presentation, along with subsequent board discussion, is available online through the district's YouTube channel, youtube.com/WCSDOhio.

Greg Viebranz, the district's executive director of communication and technology, encourages anyone interested in hearing the committee's findings to view the presentation as it may inspire them to join the next phase of the process.

In addition to reviewing committee findings and recommendations, Kellogg's presentation will include some new information and subsequently-developed visuals.

His presentation will cover the same information during each of the scheduled community meetings.

"Our goal is to capture as much feedback as possible using an online tool called Thought Exchange," Viebranz said.

"Not only will this make the analysis of input faster and easier, but it allows participants to see and rate the input shared by others."

It's similar to a manual process the district has used in the past, most recently during strategic planning, but this takes everything online and makes it much easier for community members to become involved on their own time and at their own pace, Viebranz said.

Those who register through Thought Exchange for this first phase of the process will automatically be invited to participate in the second phase that will begin this spring.

"We soon will be launching a web page specific to this facilities process," Viebranz said.

Even though materials will be accessible electronically, he said, the district hopes people will attend at least one of the community meetings as there is value to participating in person.

In addition to the Jan. 24 session at McVay, the meeting schedule is: 9 to 10:30 a.m. Jan. 27, at Westerville South, 303 S. Otterbein Ave.; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 29 at Hawthorne, 5001 Farview Drive; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 5 at Alcott Elementary School, 7117 Mount Royal Ave.; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at Annehurst, 925 W. Main St.; and 3 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at Wilder Elementary School, 6375 Goldfinch Drive.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

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