The Westerville City School District is continuing to seek input about proposed facility renovations, as well as a new middle school and elementary in the southern end of the district.
A round of community meetings wraps up at noon Friday, Nov. 16, at Genoa Township Hall, 5111 S. Old 3C Highway, to discuss the latest proposal based on community feedback gathered during an update to the district's Strategic Plan and other community engagement activities related to facility needs.
Those who haven't been able to attend the meetings can leave feedback or review more information by visiting wcsoh.org and clicking on Thought Exchange.
Superintendent John Kellogg said modifications have been made to the Facility Master Planning Committee's recommendations based on extensive community outreach and feedback.
Westerville South plan
"In October of this year, the board made decisions to move forward with components," he said, during a community engagement meeting Nov. 8 at Annehurst Elementary School. "They asked us to go back out for more community engagement, which is where we are tonight. We want to put something before the community that meets their desires."
He said there was a lot of discussion about renovating versus rebuilding Westerville South High School, which was built in 1960. Renovation is the selected option.
"In October, the board secured $37 million for the project itself," he said. "At South, we will dig dirt this May. Renovation details and conceptual designs are on the web. I'm very excited about that one."
He said it would have cost about $60 million to build a new high school.
The Westerville South renovation project is expected to be completed in late 2020, with a move-in during winter break of 2020.
"This is about getting the most value for our dollar," Kellogg said.
Permanent-improvement revenue currently is being used for the South project as well as to improve safety at district buildings.
The permanent-improvement levy generates $9 million annually in revenue that the district can only use for capital-improvement projects such as facilities and construction.
He said $2 million is being used for districtwide safety improvements, including an update to door-buzzer systems at school buildings.
"When we talk about redesigning entry ways (for safety), that's in the rest of the package," Kellogg said.
He said new elementary and middle school buildings on district-owned property in the Minerva Park area also are part of other proposed facility components, which would require additional funding.
"We can't open a new elementary and middle school without operating costs," Kellogg said. "We've been off the ballot for any new money since 2012. We're projecting a need in two years. We'll probably be back for operating dollars in two years."
Board members have said district residents need to understand that some proposed projects would increase the district's operating budget, and any additional operating cost means a request for slightly more millage the next time the district goes on the ballot for an operating levy.
Based on community feedback, Kellogg said, the district is looking at continuing use of Longfellow Elementary School as an all-day kindergarten center; renovations with additional space for all-day kindergarten at Whittier Elementary School; adding a new elementary to the south part of the district; keeping Hanby and Emerson elementary schools as they are, with current program and finance renovations at Emerson; renovating Hawthorne Elementary School; keeping Central College as an option for demolition and holding the land; adding a new middle school; and completing district-wide safety improvements.
Annehurst Elementary School originally was recommended for renovation and expansion.
"Like the other projects, the community's voice was 'we prefer not to have larger elementary schools,' " Kellogg said. "Annehurst became a renovation with a little more space for all-day kindergarten.
"The most important part of the Annehurst project is much like the Pointview project, if you're familiar with that -- closing in the walls and making better classroom spaces for our kids moving forward."
He said districtwide furniture replacement also is recommended as each project is completed.
Kellogg said the board is interested in what options the district has to reduce the need for operating dollars on top of asking for capital improvement dollars.
"If the new middle school is replacing the current middle school and we maintain four middle schools, we have the opportunity to have no impact on operational costs," he said. "An idea is to build the middle school on the south end of the district and move the staff of Blendon Middle School to the new middle school, redistrict all the middle school students, then use Blendon Middle School for swing space for the elementary school renovation project."
Once Annehurst is renovated, Kellogg said, the school's staff and students could be moved into Blendon.
After that elementary is renovated, they could move back and the same could be done with Whittier.
"Then as the timeline ends, we have the opportunity to use Blendon for additional programming as we see fit," he said. "The capacity to have swing space is huge."
Operationally, Kellogg said, the only additional operating expense of the proposed package is the new elementary school.
"That ask would be part of the ask we have for the community coming forward for the operating budget as it is today," he said.
"With this package, every school gets safety upgrades; it maintains magnets; helps ease overcrowding; adds an elementary school; opens a new middle school; and Blendon later could be repurposed," he said.
Following the meeting at Annehurst, parent Amanda MacClements said she thinks the district is trying to maximize what it can do to make things better.
"The community has a choice," she said. "It's important to have our voices heard. It's not just us parents. There has been a lot of thought process across the board. I like how they prioritized. They're not reinventing the wheel."
Christina Price said she thinks the proposal is well-thought-out.
"It was important to involve stakeholders from the beginning," she said. "I can see a big difference (in the proposal) based on the feedback. They (district officials) still want feedback."