Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools will hold the last of three Community Conversations Thursday, Jan. 30, to discuss the future of Lincoln High School and renovations to some of its other buildings.
The final session is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at Clark Hall, 380 Granville St., for those who register in advance.
After vetting ideas that have been discussed with the community and district personnel, Superintendent Steve Barrett said, he anticipates an issue being placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
"When you go out for a bond issue, you work with bond companies, banks and you work with lawyers," he said. "Our debt limit is right about $204 million. That seems like a lot of money. To build one new high school is about $100 million. To build a high school for 2,800 kids is about $165 million or so."
He said the district doesn't have exact figures of what it would cost to renovate Lincoln High School.
"I think it would be a really hard thing to do because we would have to have school while we're renovating," he said. "It would be a lot of dust. The biggest problem with Lincoln is the fact that it's dilapidating and falling apart, but the hallways are just not big enough for the kids to get from one side of the building to the other. It's really hard to renovate hallways."
He said renovations to High Point and Blacklick elementary schools would total about $15 million.
"The renovations to the middle schools, we're still working on that number," Barrett said. "I think it's right around $40 million. We have some constraints as we talk about this unless we can figure out how to increase that limit. We're also mindful that taxes all across the state -- it's expensive."
During the first Community Conversation, which drew about 60 participants to Clark Hall on Jan. 21, Barrett said, he had also met with the high school staff that day, and he will continue to meet with stakeholders to solicit feedback.
"They live that building every day," he said. "What we will do is take our notes and our conversations and thoughts and ideas that were shared to our Master Facility Planning Committee," he said.
The Community Conversations have involved small groups that came up with a variety of scenarios to address issues with the aging high school.
Some suggestions include building a new high school on current Gahanna Lincoln High School land; a multiple-building campus with academic wings; a new building with a ninth-grade focus; creating a second high school and maintaining the current high school; moving all athletics facilities to the Blacklick area, excluding the stadium, and building one high school on the current land; building additions onto the current plot in stages, potentially keeping some of the current building; and constructing a new building, keeping Clark Hall with a walkway or bridge and eventually knocking down the high school building.
Micah Cook, who has two children in the district, said her group wants a new high school building on an open-campus area on district-owned land, possibly with multiple buildings. She said safety is the top priority.
"I'm hearing from a student that kids eat their food on the floor because there's not enough cafeteria room," Cook said. "That goes back to safety."
Gahanna Lincoln High School junior McCord Riegler said the hallway traffic is the biggest problem at the high school.
"It's hard to get through to class," he said. "It can take me five minutes to get to one side of the school from the other."
Riegler said the only viable solution he sees is a new high school.
Barrett said Gahanna Lincoln High School opened in 1928 in what is now called Lincoln Hall. Hamilton Hall, the current main building, opened in 1963.
Campus additions were completed in 1937, 1948, 1981, 1995 and 2000, he said. The campus of the high school expanded in 2011, with the opening of Clark Hall.
"What we want to do is to have a plan where we know this will take care of us, our future needs, and we can provide a better learning space for our kids," Barrett said.
He said lot of people think Gahanna Lincoln is the biggest high school in the state, but that isn't the case.
"We're actually number nine," he said.
The largest three high schools in terms of attendance, he said, are Mason William in Warren County, 3,475 students; Centerville High School in Montgomery County, 2,760 students; and Lakota East High School in Butler County, 2,613 students.
"We're nine at 2,260 (students)," Barrett said. "What's most interesting is (number) 15 and 18 are schools really close to us."
He said Olentangy Liberty High School is the 15th largest in the state with, 2,148 students; Olentangy Orange High School is the 18th largest with 2,020 students and Dublin Coffman High School is the 25th largest at 1,915 students.
"That's interesting to us because often people think we're just the most massive high school in the state, and we're really only in the top 10," Barrett said.
He said the district had an enrollment study done to predict the district's future growth.
"The purpose of this study was to look at potential growth within our boundaries," he said. "A lot of the growth is happening in Jefferson Township, so we're talking about an addition to Blacklick (Elementary). High Point is also a high growth area."
He said the study found enrollment would top out at 2,847 students at the high school in 2038-39.
Jill Elliott, the district's assistant superintendent, said the first Community Conversation brought common trends for the district to consider, such as cost, space, safety, the logistics of moving within the building and considerations for athletics and arts.
"Definitely, (there's) a lot of common trends as we look at the benefits and the trade-offs for each solution," she said.
In February through April, Barrett said, ideas from the three Community Conversations on Jan. 21, 23 and 30, plus feedback from other sources, would be used to formulate a plan.
Barrett said a town hall would be held in April at a date to be announced, when findings are ready to be presented to the public.
"We'll get some more feedback from the community in that conversation," he said. "Hopefully, in May, we'll take a plan to our board of education and, hopefully, it will be on our May agenda to put something on the November ballot of '20."
Barrett said it takes 18 months to plan a building and another 18 months to build.
With a larger building and pending voter approval, he said, the district could be looking at 2025 for a new high school.