When Pickerington Schools' students and staff return to class this month, they'll likely notice reconfigured classroom, program and hallway spaces.

The projects at a number of schools were done as patchwork measures to address enrollment that is expected to increase from 10,600 in 2019-20 to 11,600 by 2023-24, according to studies done by the district.

That number is expected to rise to 12,400 over 10 years.

A long-term plan to address growth includes construction of a new junior high school that could serve up to 1,100 students on 68 acres the district owns on Lockville Road, south of Opportunity Way. The project could enable the district to expand its current stock of school buildings from 14 to 15 and to redistribute students so enrollment numbers at each building would decline.

But in order for a new junior high to be built, the Pickerington Board of Education first would need to identify the size of a bond issue it would ask local taxpayers to approve. If district voters give their OK, it's expected construction of the new building could take up to three years.

At this point, there's no clear date for when the school board might put a bond issue on the ballot. In April, board President Michelle Waterhouse and Vice President Lori Sanders said November 2020 is a tentative target, but the board hasn't had significant discussions about whether that timeline would be followed.

In the meantime, district business manager Vince Utterback said officials have taken patchwork steps this summer to "manage" rising enrollment at several schools.

According to information provided by Assistant Superintendent Bob Blackburn, enrollments for the schools being renovated are as follows, with 2018-19 enrollment listed first, followed by estimated numbers for 2019-20:

* Heritage Elementary School, 336 (2018-19) and 363 (2019-20)

* Pickerington Elementary School, 437 and 470

* Violet Elementary School, 476 and 498

* Fairfield Elementary School, 501 and 532

* Tussing Elementary School, 535 and 601

* Sycamore Creek Elementary School, 600 and 593

* Toll Gate Elementary School, 713 and 739

* Lakeview Junior High School, 782 and 816

* Ridgeview Junior High School, 914 and 933

* PHS Central, 1,815 and 1,914

Overall, the district spent about $150,000 on the project this summer -- between $30,000 and $80,000 at various schools.

At PHS Central, Utterback said, the district has attempted to reallocate interior spaces. The work included tearing out old locker-room bays and adding "resource rooms," where personalized tutoring could take place.

In recent years, tutoring has been done in classrooms while other students are being taught, he said. In June, Utterback described the measures taken at Central as a "desperate" attempt to "add whatever space we can." Last week, he noted that students and staff likely would notice that hallways have been squeezed as part of the work.

"That's what our step-up is," he said. "It's to continue to take away those locker bays and stuff like that. The hallway space is always cut into, and that becomes problematic by itself. After a while, you're going to run out of alternatives as you continue to do this."

At Ridgeview, work includes converting a room formerly used for wrestling into a band room. The school's choir room also was relocated so its former space could be turned into two new classrooms.

"Then we had to force the choir into another room and we had to turn two small closets into tutor rooms to help the situation out," Utterback said. "We took the old band room, and that's where the choir is going now.

"We reduced the (choir and band) space to make more room for the tutor rooms and to open that up on the academic wing."

At Lakeview, a home-economics classroom is being divided to create two classrooms.

Utterback said similar projects are being done at each of the district's seven elementary schools because officials predict continued enrollment growth at each building.

"There's a lot of subdivision growth and we're currently trying to make sure we have space for when school starts," he said. "Because of the housing growth, we're waiting to see what the registration will be."

Following a brief tour of the work at Central and Ridgeview, Utterback led a roughly 30-minute drive around the northern and central portions of the district's boundaries.

As he did, he pointed out about six housing developments that were either in the process of initial construction of homes, condominiums and apartments, or that were adding to their existing housing stock. That continued work, he said, is further evidence the district will have to continue to prepare for more students.

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