The Westerville City School District is moving forward with plans to renovate Westerville South High School and fund districtwide safety and security initiatives.

The district's school board unanimously approved a motion on April 9 to proceed with the development of design options for Westerville South.

Voting in favor of proceeding were Richard Bird, Gerrie Cotter, Tracy Davidson, Nancy Nestor-Baker and Rick Vilardo.

Superintendent John Kellogg said South's renovation and various safety and security enhancements across the district can be funded without requesting additional revenue from the community.

Looking at the district's five-year forecast, he said, there will be a need for a new operating levy in the fall of 2020 or 2021, regardless of what is done with facilities.

Kellogg said feedback received during the first community-engagement phase indicated strong support for renovating Westerville South, rather than demolishing and rebuilding the school. Facilities director Jeff LeRose said a renovation/expansion project is estimated to be $20 million less than a building replacement.

"With new, there was high probability that the usable site acreage would decrease based on limitations as to how the land on the current building footprint could be used," he said. "From the feedback we received, there was one issue that provided some concern with renovation and that's the size of hallways with traffic flow. But we feel confident with some design ideas, we can overcome that obstacle."

Kellogg said the Facilities Study Committee originally recommended Whittier Elementary School for an expansion project, but feedback indicated the school was an appropriate size and should be renovated without increasing its enrollment capacity.

In addition, the renovation of Annehurst Elementary School originally was among the lowest-priority projects, but feedback indicated it should be a higher-priority initiative.

"As a result, we recommended that the renovation of Annehurst should be moved from 'When Funds Allow' (priority three) to the 'Important' (priority two) category to address safety concerns and the overall academic environment," Kellogg said. "Annehurst is our only remaining open-classroom concept school."

The recommendation to renovate Hawthorne Elementary School also remains as part of the "important" projects.

"Additional recommendations that received strong support in the engagement process included adding a new elementary and a new middle school," Kellogg said.

If the board would move forward with either or both of those recommendations, an operating levy would be needed to offset the increase in operational costs for new buildings.

"Magnet-program facilities generated a lot of interest," Kellogg said. "Emerson Elementary had been identified as a building that should be sold upon relocation of the magnet and gifted programs that are now housed there. "Based upon feedback, we are recommending that we renovate Emerson and keep it in use as a magnet and gifted-program site."

The current recommendations call for relocating the magnet programs from Hanby Elementary School, but feedback indicated a strong desire for that site to remain in use as something that would benefit the community and Uptown Westerville, Kellogg said.

LeRose recommends expanding Longfellow Elementary School to accommodate the magnet programs currently housed at Hanby.

This would keep the program centrally located in the Uptown Westerville area and operating in a facility that once served as a magnet-program site, Kellogg said.

"We believe any decision to move forward with this recommendation should include a plan for repurposing Hanby in a manner that is acceptable to the school board and our community," he said.

Other recommendations, such as the expansion of all-day kindergarten and magnet programs, remain in the "When Funds Allow" category because of the additional operational expenses these initiatives likely would add.

"Districtwide furniture upgrades also remains in the 'When Funds Allow' category, though some furniture replacement likely will happen as facilities are renovated," Kellogg said.

Greg Viebranz, the district's executive director, communication and technology, helped spearhead community engagement for facilities. He said there were 1,691 participants who engaged online about facilities.

Of those participants who clicked on a link to see what was happening, 744 individuals actually participated by sharing thoughts.

"And their participation resulted in a total of 2,390 ideas and thoughts being shared through the process," Viebranz said. "All of those ideas were then reviewed and 1,043 participants actually went through that process to continue to click through, read these ideas that were shared and of those 1,043 who clicked through to read, 664 participants actually took the time to rate those thoughts, yielding 51,017 stars issued across all those ideas."

The star-rating system showed what extent a participant agreed with a statement, from one to five stars.

Over the coming weeks, Kellogg said, the district would structure projects into a proposed 10-year timeline.

"We will announce our next round of community-engagement activities to give everyone an opportunity to review and react to the proposal before finalizing any plans," he said. "We encourage everyone to remain informed and involved in the process when possible. The input we received during the first phase was invaluable and we thank everyone for their participation."