Gahanna-Jefferson schools may try 10.69-mill levy package in November

MARLA K. KUHLMAN
mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com
Gahanna Lincoln High School, 140 S, Hamilton Road, would be replaced by a new building at the current site if voters approve funding. The district has announced plans to seek a 4.93-mill bond issue and 1.5-mill permanent-improvement levy as well as a 4.26-mill operating levy this November.

Voters living in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District might see a three-part tax issue on the Nov. 3 ballot that would finance the construction of a new Lincoln High School at its current site and additions to other district buildings, at a cost of $250 million, plus a levy for operating funds.

Superintendent Steve Barrett said the millage request for phase 2 of the district’s master facilities plan would include a 4.93-mill bond issue and a 1.5-mill permanent-improvements levy for a total of 6.43 mills.

He said the district also has a need for operating funds and will ask the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools’ board to place a 4.26-mill operating levy on the ballot.

The operating levy would appear on the ballot with the bond and permanent-improvement levy as a combined request of 10.69 mills.

Barrett said the total cost for the combined package on a $100,000 house would be $31.18 per month, or $374.15 per year.

The school board voted 5-0 on June 18 to approve a resolution of consent to inform the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Ohio Department of Education of its intent to put a bond issue on the ballot, which is the first step in the process.

The recommendation is on the board’s June 29 agenda.

The combined tax issue would provide funds for construction, renovation and operating expenses.

Barrett said the operating levy is necessary for a number of reasons.

“Our student population is growing, and we will need to hire new teachers and staff to keep pace with the increased number of students entering our district,” he said. “There will also be additional costs associated with COVID-19. We will need to purchase PPE (personal protection equipment) and other safety equipment, as well as possibly hire additional staff.”

In addition, Barrett said, the state reduced the district’s budget in the current fiscal year by $1.6 million, which is 11% of its state funding.

He said he anticipates similar reductions in fiscal 2021 and 2022, given what the pandemic has done to the state’s revenue and expenses.

In total, the district’s state reductions likely will be over $4 million, Barrett said.

Phase 2 plan

The district held two virtual meetings in June to provide recommendations for phase 2 from the master facilities committee that has met for many years and collected input from the community.

The committee includes Ryan Callihan, a Gahanna teacher and parent; Tracie Clay, a Gahanna teacher and parent of Gahanna graduates; Kara Coates, a marketing executive and parent; Jared Dominak, a sales representative and parent; Chris Gricar, a parent who works in commercial construction management; Alicia Holloway, a parent who works in commercial construction; Catherine Hope-Cunningham, a parent, former teacher and real estate agent; Marcus Harris, a health-care therapist and parent; Jan Jelzey, an engineer and grandparent of a graduate; David Prater, an architect and parent of graduates; Jessica Williams, Lincoln High School principal; Aaron Winner, district business-office project manager; Scott Lofton, the district’s business-operations director; Jill Elliott, assistant superintendent; and Barrett.

Barrett said the district revisited a three-phase approach for the improvements, but there was a community desire to address Lincoln High School sooner rather than later.

“As a committee, we’re mindful of the impact of this recommendation on taxpayers,” Gricar said. “With that in mind, we wanted to revisit the option to return to a three-phase approach with the intention of balancing the financial burden across three phases instead of two. But the elementary schools and middle school overcrowding needs addressed now. That would mean the high school solution would be deferred to that third phase.”

Gricar said it has been clear through public feedback there is energy and a desire to address the high school now.

Phase 1 of the master facilities plan came in May 2018, when voters approved a 1.22-mill, 30-year bond issue and a 4.28-mill continuing (permanent) operating levy, for a total of 5.5 mills. That bond issue is financing the new elementary school, which will replace Lincoln Elementary School, 515 Havens Corners Road. It also covered the cost of renovating K-8 classrooms, media centers and restrooms in other buildings.

Barrett said the high school has served its purpose.

When looking at the high school, he said, it’s not just the hallways that are congested but also the cafeteria.

“We don’t have enough space to feed all our students,” Barrett said. “Our juniors and seniors eat (at other locations, away from the school) in open lunch almost every day.”

One thing the district wants to address that was heard frequently in community meetings is students crossing Hamilton Road to get to Clark Hall for classes.

“That’s something many in our community feel fearful about,” Barrett said. “We heard loud and clear the community would like to see us on one campus.”

The recommendation for the high school – included in the bond issue, at a cost of $198.65 million – is a new 400,000-square-foot high school on the current campus, including a performing-arts center and an athletics center with a field house; expanding cafeteria space; incorporating more vocational learning options; integrating safety and security enhancements; and providing ample parking for students and events. During construction, classes would continue at the building. It would add 130 classrooms.

The new school would eliminate the need for students to cross Hamilton Road for classes at Clark Hall. The future use of Clark Hall is yet to be determined.

Gricar said it would take four years for the high school to be completed with 18 to 24 months for design and two years of construction.

Middle school recommendations – at a cost of $31.4 million – include an additional seven classrooms at East and West, 10 additional classrooms at South, new art and music classrooms, extended cafeteria space in all three buildings, additional special-education spaces and increased office space.

The East building would get an additional 22,080 square feet and renovation of 8,097 square feet. South would get an additional 18,736 square feet and renovation of 10,428 square feet. West would get an additional 20,006 square feet and renovation of 9,543 square feet.

Gricar said it would take about three years for the elementary and middle school additions, with 18 months each for design and construction.

Elementary school recommendations – at a cost of $19.95 million – include 10 additional classrooms at each at Blacklick and High Point, new art and music rooms, extended cafeteria space and increased office space. High Point would get an additional 22,562 square feet and renovation of 4,825 square feet. Blacklick would get an additional 23,229 square feet and renovation of 4,360 square feet.

Barrett said the elementary school additions would eliminate crowding, and the district could eliminate the need for trailers at Blacklick, High Point and Goshen Lane.

Enrollment data

Barrett said facility needs across the district were examined, gauging needs from an enrollment study.

“We know a lot of building is going on in Jefferson Township,” he said. “We looked at how many houses could be built per year. We decided to estimate what our growth would be at 125 units per year.”

Current enrollment is 3,596 in K-5; peak enrollment is estimated at 4,271 in 2038-39, with an increase in enrollment of 675.

Current enrollment is 1,796 in grades 6-8; peak enrollment is expected at 2,136 in 2038-39 for a 340 increase; high school grades 9-12 enrollment is 2,260, with a peak of 2,847 in 2038-39, with growth of 587.

Current total district enrollment is 7,652, with a peak in 2038 at 9,254, for a 1,602 total increase.

“We’re over capacity in almost all our elementaries,” Barrett said. “We put special ed and speech pathologists in closets to do the work they need to do because we’re out of space.”

He said the new Lincoln Elementary School would house 750 students, which is 250 more students than most of the district elementary schools.

“That will help stem the tide of growth in a couple buildings,” Barrett said. “We will plan redistricting this coming fall. It will take a little pressure off the overcapacity we’re at now. It will not last. Over time, we’ll still be pushing the limits of our capacity.”

In grades 6-8, he said, it’s the same scenario.

“We’re burgeoning at the seams at South and West,” he said. “East had 150 less students than West and South so we redistricted. That balanced the numbers out.”

Curiously enough, Barrett said, the high school isn’t at capacity in terms of classroom space. But it’s over capacity in terms of movement and logistics, he said.

Barrett said the district is respectful of all the ways the pandemic has affected the economy and the lives of families.

“Unfortunately, the short- and long-term, critical facility needs of our district continue to grow,” he said. “We promised our community we would come to them with a plan for phase 2, and we feel strongly that now is the time to fulfill that promise.”

He said facility needs are critical now.

“If our community gives us the permission to complete phase 2, it will allow us to increase capacity, build for growth, address safety concerns and operate schools with collaborative learning spaces that inspire our students and teachers,” he said

Barrett said Lincoln High School is at the center of the district, and he wants it to become a point of pride for the community.

“We want it to be a unifying force, a flagship for our community to use, support and rally behind,” he said. “ We believe our community wants that, as well.”

He said the district plans to provide the community with the facts, ask permission and let voters decide.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla