Pickerington Schools officials are considering construction of a new junior high school and new uses for several existing school buildings as part of a plan to address enrollment growth over the next decade.

According to district officials, there are 10,600 students in the district and enrollment studies predict that number to increase by 1,000 in the next five years.

In 10 years, enrollment is expected to be about 12,400. District officials said new housing is driving growth.

On Feb. 25, the Pickerington school board approved a $1.3 million contract for John Eramo & Sons to conduct site grading and utilities preparation of about 40 acres of undeveloped, district-owned land on Lockville Road south of Opportunity Way known as the McGill property. The work is expected to be completed by Aug. 31.

A district news release said the site work would be done to prepare the property for "a future school use, such as an additional school building campus."

Now, it's clearer what the district's administration has in mind for the site.

During an April 8 work session, board members heard proposals from administrators that call for the construction of a new junior high on the McGill property that could serve up to 1,100 students.

If that domino falls – it is expected it would require passage of a bond issue, possibly as soon as November 2020, to pay for the new building – the district then would convert the existing Ridgeview STEM Junior High School into a building that, on one side, would serve K-4 students who currently are attending Heritage Elementary School.

Additionally, the existing Ridgeview building would serve fifth- and sixth-grade students in a separate area of the building, and students from the district's Gateway Academy, a gifted program for students with superior cognitive skills.

Under the proposal, which requires board approval, Heritage Elementary would be converted into the permanent home of the district's preschool program. It also would house the District Welcome Center, an office that processes students who enroll in the district.

Additionally, the plan calls for Pickerington High School Central to be expanded to add 24 classrooms, the renovation of the school's main entry for better security and an expanded cafeteria.

Likewise, Pickerington High School North would see the addition of 18 classrooms and construction of a more secure main entry.

School board Vice President Lori Sanders said the work would be done as part of Superintendent Chris Briggs' Plan for Progress.

Included in that plan is a goal to have "modern facilities" that "reflect the environment needed to be successful in today's world."

But Sanders said the proposal also is driven by a space crunch at several schools that's only going to intensify as more students enter the district.

"(District Business Manager Vince Utterback and Assistant Superintendent Bob Blackburn) looked at what might be the logical thing to do at certain schools and what to do with the McGill property," Sanders said. "Right now, our junior highs, especially Ridgeview, are pretty full.

"Also, if you look at our enrollment, a lot is coming from the bottom. Our special needs/preschool numbers never go down."

Sanders said the district currently operates eight preschool classrooms in three different schools.

Consolidating them at Heritage, she said, would be more efficient for preschool education while freeing up space at the schools where those classes currently are being held.

If the board accepts the administration's proposal, she said, the idea would be to build a new junior high on the McGill site that will address today's needs at the current Ridgeview building and provide space for about 200 additional students.

Lakeview Junior High would be maintained and continue to operate as it does today, she said.

"The building we would build at the McGill property would be a junior high and (the existing) Ridgeview's entire junior high population would go to the new school," Sanders said.

"The building would be large enough to accommodate future growth."

Through the process, Sanders said, another hope is the district could better align grade progressions for students at Violet Elementary School, the current Heritage Elementary and Toll Gate Middle School.

She said, a small percentage of students at those schools, based on the neighborhoods they live in, might move on to different middle schools, junior highs and high schools than their elementary classmates.

That has occurred before when the district realigned enrollments and attempted to address overcrowding at various buildings.

"At one point, we were better aligned, but we had to go with it because of space issues," Sanders said. "It's better to be realigned."

All the proposals are contingent upon board approval and voters' approval of a bond issue to fund the construction of a new junior high and renovate the other buildings in the plan.

Sanders said if the board approves the plan, she doesn't expect a bond issue request to be on the ballot before November 2020, and a new building wouldn't be open to students until fall 2023.

Board President Michelle Waterhouse also cautioned that no decisions have been made.

"We are in the early stages of planning and no talk of any type of bond issue has started," Waterhouse said.

Waterhouse added the April 8 presentation "seemed to indicate a November 2020 timing" for a potential bond.

But she noted that decision hasn't been made, and the board in no way wants to negatively impact Issue 2, a 4.6-mill, 25-year levy Violet Township has on the May 7 ballot that would fund the construction and operation of a $46 million community center.

"None of us wants to impede or hurt the community-center initiative," Waterhouse said. "We believe a community center will provide another positive contribution to our community."

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