Despite being designed by architects and educators for optimal learning, spaces inside the fast-growing Olentangy Schools' buildings often are used in ways for which they were not intended.

Julie Lather, principal of the 20-year-old Oak Creek Elementary School, called it "creatively using spaces," and it's a situation she faces every summer, if not more frequently.

A conference room has been converted to a teacher lunchroom, she said, because the teacher lunchroom has been dedicated to other purposes -- ranging from small-group instruction and a specialized learning center to, one year, a kindergarten classroom.

A computer lab now serves as a classroom, she said, with a portable sink provided by the PTO because classrooms need sinks but labs don't.

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A teacher workroom now is a classroom, despite its lack of windows. Portable partitions are used to section off parts of hallways and other common areas for gifted-student instruction or testing.

Some tests, Lather said, are administered in a former bathroom that was converted to a shower. Band classes are held on the stage, with a retractable wall in place, separating it from the cafeteria.

Even lunchtime is affected, she said, with lunch held from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to give all students a 30-minute lunch period and a 30-minute recess. On days with two-hour delays, tables have to be added to manage the compressed load, and some students then begin their day with lunch, she said.

Plenty more examples of imaginative use of space exist, Lather said.

"You make a space and you make it work," she said.

Olentangy Schools director of business management and facilities Jeff Gordon said the district has taken steps to delay the need for new schools through renovations and additions where possible.

The district's elementary schools range in age, he said, but a new elementary school hasn't been constructed since Heritage in 2011.

Districtwide, just five elementary school classrooms are available, Superintendent Mark Raiff said.

The district will be 24 elementary school classrooms short by the time a new school opens in 2021 -- provided a bond issue is approved March 17 and given current enrollment projections.

Olentangy voters will see a three-part tax issue on the March 17 ballot.

The three parts are a $134.7 million bond issue to fund the construction of a new middle school and two elementary schools, a 0.5-mill permanent-improvements levy to pay for ongoing maintenance and improvement of facilities throughout the district, including technology upgrades; and a 7.4-mill operating levy for such day-to-day expenses as staff salaries and program costs.

For residents, approval of the issue would increase property taxes by about $277 annually for every $100,000 of home valuation. For the district, it would generate about $31 million each year for operations and $2.1 million for improvements starting in 2021.

Raiff said a new elementary school won't be ready to open for the start of school in August 2021 unless the bond issue is approved by voters.

The district could -- and almost certainly will, Raiff said -- be on the November ballot if the issue fails March 17, but that won't leave enough time to have a new school open by the start of next school year.

The district's 15 elementary schools are designed, on average, to house 650 students, Raiff said.

That's large, he said; the state average for elementary schools is 400.

And some Olentangy elementary schools are over capacity; Lather said Oak Creek is at 670 this school year. Projections show the district growing by 2,200 elementary school students in the next 10 years, Raiff said.

The need for space is considerable at the middle school level, as well, Raiff said.

Of the district's five middle schools, three have a student population of more than 1,000, with the other two just under that mark, he said.

Projections indicate growth at the middle school level by 1,300 students in the next 10 years, Raiff said.

The three-part issue is combined on the ballot, meaning voters will cast one vote to approve or defeat the full package.

Raiff said this is a game plan the district has employed for about 20 years.

"Some districts do put up multiples issues, but our board has not done that. I think it's good strategy," he said.

"You can't open a building without operating dollars, so it's smart to ask for funds to operate new schools when you ask for funds to build them," said Tracy MacDowell, co-chairwoman of campaign group Olentangy for Kids.

Raiff said responsible fiscal management allows the district to seek the bond without adding new millage.

"The district pays down debt each year," said district treasurer Emily Hatfield. "We have also been diligent in refunding (refinancing) bonds at lesser interest rates. These, coupled with increasing valuations, helps the district sell more bond debt without having to ask for additional tax millage to pay for the debt."

Hatfield said this allows for future tax collection on new homes to help pay down the debt.

Raiff said a few sites are under consideration for the new schools, but nothing is certain.

He said the district owns several pieces of property that could be used or perhaps included in a transaction for more suitable properties.

"We're looking at sites in areas that have more population density," he said. "We like to put new schools where we know we have that density, rather than transport. It also minimizes the impact of redistricting."

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