A lot of work has been done to prepare for Big Walnut Local Schools' newest high school and elementary school buildings, and even more work remains before they open.

District voters in November 2017 approved a combined 6.6-mill bond issue and a 1.25-mill permanent-improvement levy that the district says will provide $104.8 million to build the two schools and purchase the 103 acres on which they will sit.

The district projects the elementary school will open for the 2020-21 school year and the high school for 2022-23. The high school, including athletic facilities such as a football stadium, will cost about $87.8 million, and the elementary school $17 million. Both figures include the schools' shares of the property costs.

Big Walnut Superintendent Angie Pollock said the district has a purchase agreement with the owner of the schools' site on North Miller Drive, and the district foresees no issues that might pose a problem. The sale's closing is anticipated in early 2019.

Doug Swartz, Big Walnut director of facilities, said the district in September approved the elementary's schematic design, a preliminary step.

The building's next step is design development, he said, which will go into details such as room layout, furnishings and other specifics.

The high school remains in the schematic design phase and will trail the elementary school's progress because the high school is a significantly larger building, Swartz said. The elementary school will be designed for 500 students; the high school, for 1,851.

The first site work for the elementary school is expected to start in the spring, with site work for the high school expected to start by late 2019 or early 2020, Swartz added.

Gibane, a Columbus construction company, has been selected as what is called the projects' "construction manager at risk" -- a construction "delivery model" authorized by the Ohio Revised Code for projects including school construction. Swartz said the construction manager hires subcontractors and can expedite the construction, which in turn can create cost savings.

Easing traffic woes

A traffic study also is underway.

The schools' site is in Sunbury, which has assigned the site addresses of 701 and 707 N. Miller Drive.

Miller Drive passes through the Sunbury Estates housing development, and some residents have complained the schools will increase traffic.

Swartz said the data collection, compiled with electronic cameras secured to light fixtures all around Sunbury, has been completed for the study.

He said the survey's data will develop "directly" into potential outcomes, which might include improvements to the intersection of North Miller and Cherry Street. Sunbury asked that the study also look at areas around other school buildings, Swartz said.

Any potential changes at the Miller-Cherry intersection will be completed by the village, Swartz said.

Pollock said, "We want to obviously work with the community to help mitigate some of the impact of the traffic, but the reality is wherever we go (with the schools), there's going to be some traffic. So again, it's just working with the village to adjust signals, whatever we need to do to try to help minimize the impact of that on our residents."

When the new high school opens, the current high school will become a middle school for grades 7-8, and the existing middle school will become an intermediate school for grades 5-6, Pollock said.

It's also expected the current intermediate school will house elementary schoolers and some preschool classes.

A sign of growth

When the new high school opens, the district will be using three buildings that once served as high schools, Pollock said. The current intermediate school once was the high school, she said, and Harrison Elementary School once housed grades K-12.

That's a sign of how district enrollment has grown. In the past 10 years, Pollock said, enrollment grew from 2,800 to 3,797 students. In 1991, the high school had 737; today, it has 1,073.

She said school building capacity is influenced by several factors, such as how individual rooms are used.

For example, a second-grade classroom might have 23 students, while preschool classes can have only 16 in a room, and a special-education class whose students require certain equipment might have only eight, Pollock said.

Allowing for such variations, she said, Rosecrans Elementary School is over capacity; its preschool classes were relocated to Harrison Street and all its rooms are in use.

Souders Elementary School has a few potential classrooms open, Pollock said, and the intermediate school and Big Walnut Elementary School each have one available. All middle school rooms are in use at least part of the time.

Big Walnut can project future enrollment with accuracy only about 10 years, Pollock said, because the district has a lot of open spaces with no sanitary sewer available, making its future use hard to pinpoint.

Making them special

The new school buildings will have some distinctive features, Pollock and Swartz said.

The three-story high school will have an indoor track elevated above the gymnasium. It also will have courtyard that later could be used to expand the commons area, plus space to allow future additional classrooms.

The elementary school will have "extended learning areas" -- strategically locating what would otherwise be corridor space to provide room for different activities outside the classrooms.

The 2017 bond issue also provided $2 million for security improvements at the district's older buildings. The goal is to give them the same entrance features as those at Rosecrans Elementary School and the middle school, where visitors are forced to enter the school office after being granted entrance. That work is scheduled to be finished in December.

"We're extremely grateful for community support at the ballot to build these buildings," Pollock said. "They're obviously much needed. ... A challenge for us moving forward is being able to operate them as we get more students and aren't receiving more state funding. ... But we're very relieved that we have an end in sight to our crowdedness with these new buildings coming online, and we're excited about the instructional possibilities.