Westerville City School District leaders want to continue the conversation about updating school facilities.

The first of seven meetings kicked off Jan. 24 at McVay Elementary School, where Superintendent John Kellogg discussed the recommendations of a citizen-led committee. Those recommendations include a $35 million renovation/expansion project at Westerville South High School and new middle school estimated to cost $18 million.

The committee also rated districtwide safety/security initiatives as critical.

Kellogg said the scope and cost of any improvements is dependent on the community involvement process.

"Some or all can be financed without going on the ballot," he said. "I think it should be determined through this community involvement process. The goal is long-sighted to position the district for the long term."

Kellogg has been meeting with district staff about the recommendations and anyone else who wants to talk.

He said he hopes everyone will understand the recommendations are based on good information and knowledge.

"Parts (of the facilities plan) I feel are a no-brainer," Kellogg said. "Other parts are more challenging."

One of the more provocative recommendations might be the proposed sale of Hanby and Emerson elementary schools with the housing of the magnet program being deferred to the district.

"The lack of specificity creates an opportunity for what people would like to see," Kellogg said. "The program could grow."

He said facilities are a component of a larger strategic plan the district worked on in 2013, and again in 2017.

The community said technology in the classroom was important, and the district responded by putting more than 10,000 devices in the classrooms for student use, he said.

"That's an area where we responded to what the community wanted," Kellogg said. "We're trying to make sure in the big picture that we're responding to what the community wants."

Most important for the Westerville schools is the aging infrastructure, according to Kellogg.

"Our problem is similar to Upper Arlington, having older buildings and an aging infrastructure," he said.

The average school building in Westerville is 50 years old, Kellogg said.

The 15,000-student population is estimated to grow by 1,000 over the next 10 years.

Of those 15,000 students, about 6,500 kids are located south of Interstate 270.

"We have places with lots and lots of families with no schools," Kellogg said.

A recommendation is to build the new middle school on land the district owns across from Hawthorne Elementary School, 5001 Farview Drive.

"It seems like a nice site that would add value with playgrounds and tracks that people like to use," he said. "We already have land, which is less expensive for us."

Residents respond

District resident Julie Borth said the recommendations are exciting.

"It's necessary," she said. "For me, I still have elementary-age kids at Whittier. I think this is being proactive."

Resident Katrina Beattie said it makes sense to build more schools in the southern portion of the district.

"They (students) can stay closer to home rather than being bused," she said.

Genoa Township resident Laurel Reinoehl said the district's newer schools are showing age, including Fouse and Alcott elementary schools and Westerville Central High School.

"I drive that parking lot, mostly Central, and the potholes are large enough to swallow children," she said. "They need regular maintenance."

Reinoehl said she agrees other schools need desperate maintenance, but she would like to see other schools maintained as well.

"Are we deferring what's needed until it's desperate?" she asked.

Ways to give input

Upcoming public meetings to continue the discussion will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Early Learning Center, 936 Eastwind Drive; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5, at Alcott Elementary School, 7117 Mount Royal Ave.; 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Annehurst Elementary School, 925 W. Main St.; and 3 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at Wilder Elementary School, 6375 Goldfinch Drive.

The public also can visit wcsoh.org/ TimesChange to provide input until Feb. 14.

District officials will then analyze community feedback to determine if revisions should be made to the facility recommendations before they are considered by the board.

The board is expected to make a decision in early June.