One of the options being considered by Big Walnut school officials to address enrollment growth is a $135 million bond issue on the November ballot.
During last week’s first two public forums, members of the school district’s facilities planning committee explained the district’s options for meeting student population growth — anticipated to be 62 percent to 79 percent over the next decade. For planning purposes, the committee is focusing on the “most likely” to high projections, based on past growth patterns.
Committee member Steve Austin said the most viable option – that would include a new high school with sports facilities, one additional elementary building, and renovations to the district’s existing school buildings – would require a $135 million bond issue. He said that because it takes close to four years to acquire land, design a new high school and build the facility, a bond issue would need to be placed on this November’s general election ballot.
The growth numbers are the result of the district’s 2015 enrollment study, completed by Tracey Healey of FutureThink. Healey assembled her final numbers by analyzing live birth data, historical enrollment, community demographics and housing information, based on actual developments planned and underway in the school district.
Public forums were held April 4 at Sunbury Town Hall and April 7 at Community Library in Sunbury.
Graphics used during the forums showed school buildings through 2019. If the study’s enrollment projections hold true, the district’s current four elementary buildings would be 46 percent over capacity. The intermediate school would be 48 percent over capacity, Big Walnut Middle School 31 percent over capacity, and Big Walnut High School 68 percent over capacity.
Austin, who chaired the Sunbury Town Hall forum, said members of the committee estimate that accommodating student population growth using modular classrooms would require 24 mobile classroom at the elementary level, 11 mobile classrooms at the intermediate school, seven mobiles at the middle school, and 25 mobile classrooms at Big Walnut High.
“Growth isn’t just coming, growth is already happening,” Austin said.
Superintendent Angie Pollock said in August that the school district had 3,443 students; at this time of the school year, it’s up to 3,516 students.
“Our fourth grade class is 304 students, and that number is growing,” Pollock said. “We’ve already added five teachers at the high school for next year, one teacher in each core area. Some classrooms are now at 30 students.”
Austin said members of the facilities committee, after exploring all options, said what makes the most sense is to build a new high school designed to accommodate the 2015 enrollment study’s 10-year estimated maximum numbers; keep the district’s four elementary buildings and build a new elementary building; move intermediate school students to the existing middle school; and move middle school students to the existing high school.
Asked by an audience member about adding on to existing buildings to meet student population growth, Zach Price of TRIAD Architects, who has been working with the facilities committee, said renovations are more difficult and costly than new construction.
“Because of site constraints, it would be very difficult to add to the existing high school,” Price said.
Austin said failure to approve a bond issue and using modular classrooms would force the school district to use up to $4 million in operating dollars from the district’s general fund for trailer rentals – leading to layoffs of teachers.
“We all agreed that a bond issue and a new high school is the most doable option,” Austin said. “A $135 million bond issue would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $50 per month in property taxes.”
During the April 7 forum at the library, Treasurer Terri Day explained that if a bond issue were approved by voters, bond sales would not be until 2017, with the first property tax collections on the bond amount beginning in 2018.
Another forum will be at 6 p.m. today at Berkshire Township Hall
Additional forums are scheduled for:
• Big Walnut High School, 6 p.m., Monday, April 18.
• Porter Township Hall, 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 26.
• Harlem Township Hall, 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 27.
• Galena Village Hall, 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 4.
The information presented during the forums will also be presented during the 6:30 p.m. April 21 school board meeting in the high school Innovation Center.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093