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School board explores facility option

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington Independent School District 518 Board of Education met Tuesday morning in a work session to address facility recommendations made by the facility and grounds committee.

As an early initiative to curtail what could become a severe facility shortage for schools, the committee organized four focus group meetings earlier in the year to gain public input on the school district's future direction.

Seven options presented to focus group attendees were additions, construction of a new high school on a new site, a new high school on the Northland Mall site, repurposing the Northland Mall site for the high school, portables, a new intermediate school and maintaining current facilities.

The two options that garnered the most votes were building a new high school on a new site and adding a new intermediate school.

"Our overall recommendation is to consider moving forward with looking at a new high school," said Superintendent John Landgaard, in reference to the facilities and grounds committee.

Various concerns and questions developed during Tuesday's meeting, which consequently means further work will be needed for a solid plan.

School board member Steve Schnieder, who is also on the facilities and grounds committee, expressed his preference of seeking a long-range solution instead of "piecing things together."

"If the community continues to grow, which I suspect it's going to, we're going to be scrambling around in the not so distant future ... saying 'now what are we going to do?'" Schnieder said.

He noted the approximately 15 percent cost difference in constructing an intermediate school and a high school.

"It makes more sense to me to invest a little more and get the space we need for future expansions," he said.

Board members Joel Lorenz and Linden Olson were in agreement that convincing voters to approve a referendum for a new building would be a difficult process.

"With the 12 years left on the current building levy we have (Prairie Elementary) and to try to pass this, it's going to be difficult to sell," Lorenz said. "The tax impact is going to be substantial, and we need to figure out other alternatives to fall back on."

Olson asked that the committee explore other available alternatives available, including having a year-round school schedule with students rotating on a two-month break.

"When all the options are known, then I think we can make a far better decision," he said.

Board chairman Brad Shaffer stressed the importance of smaller class sizes. Hiring new teachers would not alleviate the problem of the larger class size due to the lack of space, he said.

A slightly different concern regarding the cost was expressed by board member Scott Rosenberg. He inquired about the annual recurring expenses a new building would incur.

"These things are more so in the future, but are we prepared for that?" Rosenberg questioned.

A steady increase of student enrollment over the last five years has stirred the concern for the lack of space. At the beginning of this academic year, a "hub" was created to cater to the shortage of classrooms. Designed with 10 cubicles, teachers now spend their prep time in the hub instead of at their individual classrooms.

High school principal Paul Karelis added that within the next two years, some programs will be removed to accommodate for more students.

"The easiest way is to cut programs and specialty classes, but on the flip side that means we take away options for the kids," he said.

Shaffer explained that while the board members were aware of the reality of the space shortage, the public has not been well educated. Fellow board member Mark Shepherd said voters could potentially become more supportive if they experience the inconvenience of the situation.

"When the city passed the half-cent sales tax, voters had been inconvenienced by the lack of the event center," he explained. "We're really torn on this issue because we know our needs, but the general public doesn't know."

While many questions were left unanswered, the objective of the Tuesday's session was to spur discussion and generate ideas. Landgaard said a second work session will be scheduled in June.

Daily Globe Reporter Ana Anthony may be reached at 376-7321.