A fourth high school is one of three options the Olentangy Local School District is considering to solve the problem of ever-increasing student populations.
“This is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon,” said Ralph Au of the district’s facilities committee during the Olentangy Board of Education retreat on Tuesday. The committee is taking into account data like birth rates and building permits to determine whether new buildings will be needed in the future.
Currently, there are 5,578 students enrolled at the district’s three high schools. A 10-year enrollment projection by the committee said there will be more than 2,000 students in each school in the 2017-18 school year; and all three will have more than 2,200 students in 2019-20.
The 2,200 total is significant in that it is the maximum number of students the committee feels each high school may be able to hold, even with changes like modular classrooms.
Projecting even further out, the district could have a peak of 8,138 high school students in 2033; 7,563 students in 2043; and 6,934 in 2062. There would be an average of 2,200 students in each high school for 39 of the next 50 years.
“The kids are coming, and they’re staying for the next 39 years,” said board member Julie Wagner-Feasel.
Administrative staff said that principals feel the larger the high school, the harder it is “to deliver a high-quality educational experience.”
Earlier this year, the committee ruled out 12 possible options to solve the high school overpopulation, including doing nothing; using the Delaware Area Career Center North Campus; converting the district’s central office into classrooms; and re-configuring grades.
That leaves three options, said committee member Sharon Juravich during the presentation to the board.
The first option, Option A, would be to use another building similar to the Olentangy Academy, which opened earlier this year. The academy building would be leased by the district with the option to buy after 20 years. A variation would be to use the present Shanahan Middle School for the academy, and build a new middle school. Students attending the academy would stay there the entire day, instead of being bused to their home high school like they are now, requiring a cafeteria.
Board members wondered whether the academy could be as popular as a high school, since it lacked arts or athletic programs. “We came close to not offering Option A,” Au said.
The second option, Option B, would be to expand each high school with the same free-standing building that could accommodate 700 students; or to make the expansions according to each school’s design, like adding a wing.
It was noted that Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy high schools, each with 303,255 square feet, would be able to handle the building expansions. However, additions to 310,00 square-foot Orange High School would have to be placed on current athletic fields due to its smaller footprint.
“If you add on to Orange, you have to move fields,” said facilities director Jeff Gordon. “Parking has to be adjacent to the building.”
The third option, Option C, would be to build a new high school and redistrict the four schools so they have an equal number of students.
District officials said they own land along Berlin Station Road that could potentially be the site for a fourth high school. The committee said a 2014 survey indicated 48 percent of parents support having a fourth high school.
Finally, the facilities committee estimated the costs for each option. Option A would cost $65.8 million; Option B would cost $53.5 million; and Option C would cost $68.5 million.
“High schools are the largest investment in the district,” said board president Kevin O’Brien.
The board took no action, but wondered what the potential millage might be for the project, as well as a timeline for reaching a decision. According to the committee, the earliest any of the options could be completed would be the 2018-19 school year.
Superintendent Mark Raiff said he wants to hear what the public thought of the possible options.