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A Story of Growth: Licking Heights

Construction is underway in Pataskala, OH, on the new high school for Licking Heights Local Schools, slated to open in August of 2020. Work on the new high school seeks to alleviate the pressures of enrollment numbers that have been swelling past the existing high school’s capacity since 2016. With an average addition of around 150 students per year, the school district has since relied on temporary classroom spaces outside of the main school buildings and the hope of a rapid facilities solution. Currently, about 1,250 students are enrolled in the Licking Heights High School, which was designed to support a population of 900. Even though work only began in the late months of 2018, a hard deadline of 2020 was deemed necessary to address the overcrowding in time for the 2020/2021 school year.

Hill International’s Project Manager Holly McLean is providing owner’s agent services to this rapid and important project. Holly reinforces the urgency inherent to the project and adds: “The project team is focusing not only on temporary enclosure by Thanksgiving of 2019, but the end date at all times. Last year we saw higher than average precipitation in the area, but we continue to push forward so the District won’t have to rely on additional space in trailers to educate the children of the community.” Drawing upon more than 15 years of professional experience and lessons learned on many jobs in a similar educational context, Holly knows what it takes to get a job done well and on time. Holly manages contractual and financial matters, reviews change orders, and observes and reports on project progress, among other things, to support the goals of the Licking Heights Local School District.

But as important as a swift execution is the planning that has gone into making the new school sustainably sized for future generations of high school students. Holly reports: “The school will be larger than the current facility, with room to grow. The site is over 150 acres and the building is 273,500 SF. The space will be able to accommodate 1,500 students, but it’s also flexibly designed. There is a future option to expand a wing of the building to fit an additional 300 students, expandable seating built into the auditorium, and kitchen and student dining areas to accommodate enrollment up to 1,800 students.”

The expandability of the project is significant in the context of educational-facility design in Ohio. For years, state projections of student enrollment for the District have been dwarfed by the realities of its growth. “The usual procedure is to build out to the state’s ten-year projections, if the District is growing. However, Licking Heights has almost reached the state’s ten-year projections in only the third year since those projections were made,” says Holly. “That is why the District has built in additional square footage to the new high school project and an option for future expansion.”

This flexibility is an added challenge for project managers who are working on educational projects in Ohio. Even after the design process, owners’ agents such as Holly must be prepared to find and capitalize on use of space and growth opportunities. After construction, schools need to be customizable to accommodate educational programming and students with different educational needs in high-performance learning environments and multi-use areas. Holly says, “We need to be very attentive to how spaces are being shaped in design and construction, anticipate growth, and make sure that it won’t be too difficult or expensive to reprogram those areas most likely to be used for later expansion.”

The story of growth does not end with more classrooms for more students. High-performance learning environments are becoming commonplace in Ohio school design. “Flexible spaces, such as extended learning areas outside of the classroom where students can congregate, work on group projects, or study with an aide can affect how education is delivered,” Holly says. “How the District provides and envisions educational programming should shape the design of their educational facilities.”

The new high school will include an auditorium, with expandable seating, a main gym, an auxiliary gym, and a cafeteria designed for a full population of 1,800 students. Holly says of these spaces and other large collaborative areas at Licking Heights: “They’re not just important amenities for the extracurricular activities of a school. They serve to create a welcoming space for the community and a place where kids can develop together and share all their hard work and talents.”

Awareness of the growth and educational trends in Ohio is certainly being channeled into the new high school at Licking Heights. And this school, because of its size, thoughtful design, and flexibility, will help support the education of students in the central Ohio area for many years to come. It also has the potential to become an integral space within the community of Pataskala and surrounding areas. Perhaps in the coming years, other educators and construction professionals around the U.S. will look to the examples set in Licking Heights for crafting the next generation of schools.