Gahanna’s Issue 22 intends to address high school’s struggles with age, growth

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Steve Barrett, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools superintendent, stands in a boiler room in one of the older sections of Lincoln High School. Part of the proposed Issue 22 would replace the high school.

A new Lincoln High School, additions to other district school buildings and operating funds are what Gahanna voters are being asked to consider with Issue 22 on the Nov. 3 ballot.  

Mike Verlingo, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools’ treasurer, said the district is asking taxpayers to support a levy of 10.69 mills that consists of three components.  

The issue is for the second phase of the Master Facilities Plan, Superintendent Steve Barrett said, and includes a 4.93-mill bond issue and a 1.5-mill permanent-improvements levy, for a total of 6.43 mills.  

If approved, the issue would finance the construction of a new Lincoln High School at its current site and fund additions to other district buildings.  

Barrett said the district also is seeking a 4.26-mill operating levy to hire additional staff to keep pace with increasing enrollment and meet additional costs related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

The bond issue, operating levy and permanent-improvements levy total 10.69 mills.  

The additional cost for the total package would be $31 per month or $374 annually per $100,000 of assessed residential property value.  

“The bond and PI levy will both be used to service debt for the construction of new facilities – a new Lincoln High School, expansion to all of the middle schools and some of the elementaries,” Verlingo said. “This will take care of the needs of facilities for the next 50-plus years.” 

He said the operating levy also is for current operations including transportation, maintenance, salaries, wages and all ongoing expenses to keep the district solvent.  

Verlingo said information can be found on the Franklin County auditor’s website by clicking on the levy-forecaster tool, franklincountyauditor.com/LevyEstimator. 

“It will actually calculate for each taxpayer for their address the actual amount this levy will cost,” Verlingo said. “It also gives a breakdown of all the current levies that exist for the city, school district, etc., so they can see an analysis of the breakdown of their total taxes. I would recommend everyone use that website. It’s a very accurate and helpful tool to use.”  

Barrett said part of Lincoln High School was built in 1927. 

“You see a lot of the detail work, some of the HVAC systems from that time still exist,” he said. “The systems in our high school are worn out and dilapidated. We continue to pour money into them to keep them going, but it’s inefficient. Having a new high school would be much more energy efficient and cost efficient.”  

The high school received a renovation in 1987. 

“We’ve had several renovation projects as we’ve grown,” Barrett said. “What our plan for phase two takes into account is an enrollment study that projects our enrollment all the way through 2068.  

“Growth is upon us and we’re going to continue to grow. Five years out, we’re going to be getting over 800 students.” 

Barrett said a 2019 enrollment study projects the district to be at 9,200 students in 2038-39.  

Current enrollment is between 7,600 to 7,700.  

“When you do a bond to build for enrollment growth, you have to give enough time for the building to take place, for the planning to place,” Barrett said. “It will take about 24 months to plan the building and about 24 months to build it, give or take.”  

In addition to replacing Lincoln High School, the issue would provide funds to add classrooms at elementary and middle schools where there is growth, he said. 

He said the district is at or over capacity at every middle and elementary school, except Chapelfield Elementary School.  

“If this bond issue passes, it should take care of our building needs for the next 50 years. And, so, this is a big levy,” he said. 

Barrett said he knows the pandemic has presented a lot of problems with the economy and unemployment, and it’s a difficult time for voters.  

“But we have to plan ahead, because we’re getting 800 students over the next five years,” he said. “And, if we start now, we can be ready for those students and not have to resort to trailers. Having a new high school, I think, would be a draw to our community.” 

Part of the new high school project would include a field house that could be used by students in grades K-12, for Pee-Wee basketball, soccer, and those kinds of things, he said.  

“Our plan the master-facilities committee created is really to deal with this in a way that takes the future into account, not just the next few years but the next 50 years,” Barrett said.  

“We’re working with (Columbus architecture firm) Moody Nolan. They’ve done some conceptual drawings for us. We know that when we tear down Lincoln Elementary and we have the practice fields and the softball field in the back and the tennis courts, we can fit a 400,000-square-foot building. We can build it and have minimal disruption of the school day here at Lincoln High School. We’re excited. We hope we can get permission from our voters to move forward,” he said.  

District parents Cait Masarik and Carrin Wester are co-chairing Residents Building a Brighter Future, a committee to promote Issue 22. 

The group’s Facebook page is “Vote for Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Levy.”  

At this time it appears there is no organized opposition group campaigning against the issue. 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekMarla