Worthington City Council on May 13 decided to delay its decision on whether it would hear an appeal of the Worthington Architectural Review Board’s approval for modular classrooms at Evening Street Elementary School.
The decision was tabled to June 3 by a verbal vote of 7-0.
John and Jenna Reik, who live on the 800 block of Evening Street, filed the appeal May 3, listing several reasons why they disagree with the ARB’s April 25 approval of the modular classrooms. The modular building at the school, 885 Evening St., would have six classrooms and two restrooms and would be 70 feet wide by 80 feet long, according to a March 28 plan presented to the ARB.
“This case is about having to have the exigency and making it work,” said council President Pro Tem Scott Myers of the modulars.
City Council is expected to vote June 3 on whether to hear the appeal, he said.
The delay will allow time for city officials to work with the school district and the appellants to refine the landscaping plan and any other issues on which they can compromise, said Myers, who proposed the suggestion.
The letter included with the Reiks' appeal to the city said the proposed site for the modular building is not the closest proximity to the school, which would violate local design guidelines for commercial and institutional structures, and the modular building would negatively affect surrounding properties by its closeness to Evening Street and its eight air-conditioning and heating units.
They said the modular-building placement “unfairly provides advantages to school district interests over neighborhood interests” and doesn’t improve line-of-sight concerns when children are playing.
Jeff Eble, director of business services for Worthington Schools, said April 25 that district leaders would not compromise on the position of the building after ARB members discussed moving it back farther from the street and out of view of nearby residents.
The proposed location provided a clear sight line for when children are playing outdoors, Eble said.
Their appeal also said the ARB’s April 25 meeting was adjourned without proper discussion on a chain-link fence or screening of air-conditioning and heating units.
In an email to city officials included with the appeal, they said the fence should be replaced and more street trees should be planted.
Council member David Robinson said council should hear the appeal because “it was written by the residents of Worthington and I would like to hear what they have to say.”
Robinson said the appeal seemed to be focused on landscaping and fence issues the residents wanted included in the ARB’s decision.
He asked Lee Brown, the city’s planning and building director, why landscaping and fences were not addressed.
“I’m going to have to disagree with them if that’s how they felt,” Brown said.
He said from the March 28 meeting to the April 25 meeting at which the modular classrooms were approved by the ARB, two different landscape plans had been prepared and revised.
The ARB also included a condition as part of its April 25 approval vote that the final landscape plan would be approved by city staff members, according to minutes from the April 25 meeting.
Brown said Lynda Bitar, planning coordinator with the city, has been working with the school district in the past two weeks to complete the landscape plan.
“The board just gave us the go-ahead to beef it up over what was existing,” Brown said.
Bitar said any decision by the ARB may be appealed to City Council. She said anyone who files an appeal only has to be affected by the ARB’s decision.
The modular classrooms are needed at Evening Street to help with increasing enrollment, according to Worthington Schools leaders.
As of a January 2019 enrollment report on worthington.k12.oh.us, kindergarten-to-fifth-grade enrollment at Evening Street is 515 students for the 2018-19 school year. Five years ago, in the 2014-15 school year, K-5 enrollment was 462. In four years, during the 2022-23 school year, K-5 enrollment is estimated at 570.
The trend matches overall Worthington Schools enrollment, which currently is 10,276 but is projected to reach 11,546 by the 2024-25 school year, according to the January report.