Opportunity Knocks

  • The following is from a series of blog posts from Superintedent Trent Bowers

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    Sometimes opportunity knocks and something unexpected comes up that you feel needs to be pursued. In Worthington Schools, we’re in that position right now with a 13.7-acre piece of property that would be an ideal site to build a new Colonial Hills Elementary School. The property sits off State Route 161 on the east side of the school district and has commonly been known for years as The Harding Property. Currently, the land is owned by the I Am Boundless company.

    The Boundless family of companies has nearly 40 years of expertise providing person-centered care to children, adults, and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities and/or behavioral health challenges. They have several tracts of land on their property that they are looking to sell and in their words “partner” with a provider. Last spring, Boundless issued a RFP (Request for Proposal) for their property.

    On March 15th, Worthington Schools responded to the I Am Boundless RFP and Director of Business Services, Jeff Eble, met twice with their team to discuss the 13.7-acre site on the SE section of their property at the end of Indianola Avenue.

    On July 8th, I again met with Boundless regarding our proposal. We discussed our timeline for potentially building a new Colonial Hills Elementary in Phase 2 or Phase 3 of our Facilities Master Plan and the potential for Worthington Schools to purchase the land and lease it back to I Am Boundless until we are ready to move forward.

    On August 5th, I met with Boundless again and indicated our desire to create a letter of intent to negotiate the purchase of this property.

    In 2015-2016 we began to plan for the future of Worthington facilities. The research revealed some of our buildings are in great shape and are in need of some minor maintenance, while others could use extensive renovation or even replacement. That makes sense when you consider that some of our newest school buildings are 25 years old, while several of our schools are 60 years old (Colonial Hills) and were not built with today’s learning in mind. We have done an excellent job with upkeep on the buildings, however, it’s not the appearance of the buildings that concerns us. It is the out-of-date infrastructure behind the walls (i.e. plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling) that is becoming more and more costly.

    The plan began in 2015 with a partnership with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. This State of Ohio organization brought teams of architects and construction experts to walk each Worthington school. They provided individual assessments of every system within our schools. Based upon the OFCC reports, we learned that to bring our schools up to a statewide standard we needed $260 million worth of replacements and renovations.

    After receiving the OFCC assessments, we partnered with Cooperative Strategies to create a Master Facilities Plan. Sixty-one community members led by community chairs, Nikki Hudson and Amy Lloyd, invested 18 months to create a plan that would address our aging buildings, balance high school enrollment and create capacity for all students. (Our enrollment has grown by 1,200 students in the last six years and is projected to continue to grow by another 800 students in the next five years.)

    We intended to come forward with this plan in phases. Phase One required funding of approximately $89 million dollars and was passed by the community (70% voted in favor) last fall as Issue 9. This plan provides capacity for our elementary schools by moving 6th grade to the middle school in the fall of 2021. It will address our aging buildings by rebuilding Worthingway Middle School and Perry Middle School (Perry would reopen as a 6-8 grade middle school, while Phoenix, Worthington Academy and Rockbridge remain on that site). The plan balances high school enrollment by moving to 4 traditional middle schools (plus Phoenix) with two middle schools feeding to each high school and by moving a current TWHS feeder elementary to the WKHS feeder pattern.

    This is just Phase One of our plan. We’ll propose to come back to the community in 2022 with Phase Two of the plan and likely back again around 2026 or 2027 with Phase Three. By phasing the work we are able to maintain our state-mandated debt limits and hopefully make the work more affordable for community members.

    It is our belief that the Harding Property would be an ideal site for a new Colonial Hills Elementary to be funded in Phase Two or Phase Three of our plan. This parcel of 13.7 acres would allow the school to remain in the Colonial Hills neighborhood while building a modern educational facility that meets the needs of Worthington students for the next 60 years. It would allow access to the school from 161 and potentially controlled access from the neighborhood.

    The current Colonial Hills site, while charming, is very difficult. Rebuilding schools in established neighborhoods will be difficult at many of our school sites throughout the district, however, Colonial presents an extraordinary challenge. The school sits on a 12-acre site that is divided by a wooded ravine. The school is south of the ravine and was built in 1958. School buses are unable to access the site and must load and unload on Colonial Avenue. Students may traverse the ravine to find grass to play on at recess. Architects have told us that we could potentially rebuild on this site with a two story school. However, to do so we would need to move Colonial Hills students to another undetermined location for at least a year and in order to create a site where buses could enter and exit we may need to work to purchase some of the current surrounding houses. The current access to the school is not sufficient for buses.

    Another option would be to flip the site and build the school on what we call “South Field.” This would allow us to use Colonial Hills as a school during construction but it is still a limited land site divided by a ravine and we would need to clear several acres of trees. Additionally, the road going in and out of South field in the Rush Creek neighborhood would likely create significant congestion.

    Both of these options are doable but both are less than ideal. Naturally the question I expect many residents to ask is, “If this were to move forward, what would happen to the current Colonial Hills site?” The honest answer is that we don’t know. We’ll want to monitor enrollment for the next several years. It’s possible the school district will want to continue to educate students there for a period of time if our enrollment continues to grow. It’s possible that we would want to sell the land to a developer for housing. It’s possible that there is another community use. We haven’t explored uses for the current school site at this point and likely will not until we get closer to our next bond issue and we have the information needed to make an informed decision. But Worthington Schools understands the need to protect the natural environment and to partner with the community in future uses for the current school site.

    We don’t have a specific plan for the new site or the old site and we certainly do not have all of the answers to questions residents likely will have, but our feeling is that land to build a school on which solves an existing problem (current site challenges) does not often come open in a built-out community like ours. We never predicted we would have this opportunity but since the opportunity exists we believe it’s likely in the best interests of our community to seize the opportunity.

    We’re planning a public meeting to get feedback on this idea for Tuesday, September 3rd at 7:00 P.M. at the Worthington Education Center. We’ll review the challenges with the current site and look at the advantages of the proposed site. We’ll listen to your feedback ie...things like, we know residents in Colonial Hills do not want Indianola Ave extended to 161, etc...We won’t have all the answers at this point but if nothing else we’ll generate a list of questions we’ll need to answer in the future.

    The Harding Property is an opportunity we must explore. This property has always served the public and a school would fit with the natural character that the community expects. We’d love for you to join us on September 3rd to discuss, provide feedback and ask questions.

Overhead map of Colonial Hills
Harding Property