Westerville City School District officials say a 1.95-mill bond issue and 5.9-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, known as Issue 8, would provide funds to build a new middle school and elementary school in the district's southern end -- in the Minerva Park area -- and allow more students to attend neighborhood schools.
If approved, the estimated annual cost of the levy and bond issue would be $275 per $100,000 in home valuation.
Superintendent John Kellogg said a major component of Issue 8 is to provide space for students.
He said the projected enrollment for this school year is 15,423, and increasing enrollment continues to be a pressure point for the district.
Greg Viebranz, the district's executive director of communication and technology, said enrollment has increased by 1,300 students since the last new schools opened in 2003, and the district is projected to grow by another 1,300 over the next 10 years.
"More than 6,000 students live inside I-270, but we only have Hawthorne and Huber Ridge in that proximity," Viebranz said. "A new elementary school and new middle school will provide additional space to allow more students to attend school closer to their home and neighborhood, rather than having to be transported elsewhere."
He said the district's high schools are large enough to handle the projected growth.
Kellogg said Hawthorne Elementary School, 5001 Farview Road in Columbus, is a great example to show the need for additional space.
Hawthorne, a K-5 elementary school, is home to 770 students, he said.
"It's bigger than Blendon Middle School," Kellogg said. "It's actually bigger than a lot of high schools in Ohio. In fact, the high school (where) I served as a principal was about this size."
Kellogg said Hawthorne is the district's largest elementary and the building houses more children than it really should.
"It affects programming," he said. "For example, there's a classroom in here where we have actually three different teachers who are doing small-group instruction in the same space at the same time, because we just don't have enough classroom space."
He said Issue 8 would allow the district to address space needs by adding a new middle school and elementary near Hawthorne.
"We actually own two pieces of property," Kellogg said.
"Right across from Hawthorne Elementary, we own 14 acres which would be the site for the new middle school. On the old Minerva Park golf course, we have another 14 acres (for the proposed elementary). That 14 acres we actually did in a deal with M/I Homes. They were very gracious when they were building and donated that land to us."
He said the 14 acres for the middle school is a piece of property the district has owned for a while, so taxpayers won't be asked for funds for the land.
Kellogg said the property is in the right location to meet the district's needs.
"Because if you look at our district, we have literally over 6,000 kids in the south end of the district, with almost no, other than Hawthorne, really, neighborhood schools. And that's a high priority for our community."
He said to add on to Hawthorne would seem like an option, but that would make a large elementary school even larger and more difficult to manage.
"Sometimes it's not very cost-advantageous to do that," he said. "We couldn't add the amount of space we're talking about. We're looking at a 600-student elementary school in the south end of the district."
He said that would take pressure off not only Hawthorne but some of the district's other schools that are currently busing students from the south end of the district to other portions that have space.
"A great example would be Mark Twain, our second- largest elementary school with 625 kids," he said.
"About 200 of the students that go there come from the south end of the district. You see the same thing at our middle schools. Heritage Middle School in particular has about 40% of its population that comes from the south end of the district. So those students could be served in a neighborhood school down here in the south end in these two lots as part of Issue 8."
Every time the district has surveyed the community about enrollment and district boundaries, Kellogg said, neighborhood schools have been a top priority.
"We think this is a way to do that, maintain the neighborhood-school concept for a lot of our families that are already in place and add a neighborhood school as a factor for more of our families that really don't have that today," he said.
District treasurer Nicole Marshall said the 5.9-mill operating levy would allow the district to maintain programs and services at the current level.
She said the bond is intended to provide funding for a new middle school, new elementary school, safety and security updates districtwide, renovations and additions at Annehurst and Whittier elementary schools, renovations at Hawthorne and address facilities assessment needs at Hamby, Emerson and Longfellow elementary schools.
No formal opposition groups have opened a political-action committee with the Franklin County Board of Elections regarding the Westerville school bond/levy, according to Aaron Sellers, elections board spokesman.
Peg Duffy, one resident who is an Issue 8 opponent, said board discussion originally was to fund two buildings in the southern part of the district and to provide operating dollars to open them.
"That was fine," she said. " 'Scope creep' expanded the initial intent from space to include undefined middle school programming. Yet we are unable to add sections of existing high school courses because of lack of space."
Duffy said the board should have focused on physical plans.
"They could have explored internal financing options that would have reduced the millage request to a more palatable level," she said.