Feb 8, 2024 - News

Columbus City Schools to consider building closures — again

Illustration of hand writing and crossing out open and closed on a chalkboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Columbus City Schools stakeholders are once again tasked with recommending which buildings should close in the years ahead.

Why it matters: Closures would help the district reduce expenses as it faces dwindling enrollment and a surplus of aging facilities in need of costly repairs.

Yes, but: Past discussions have proven unpopular — and unproductive — among community and school board members.

  • Officials say this time will be different, with new leadership in place.

Flashback: In 2018, amid public backlash, board members rejected recommendations to close four schools and turn Linden-McKinley High School into a middle school.

  • The same occurred in 2016 with different suggestions.

Of note: CCS last consolidated in 2014, shutting down Brookhaven High School, Monroe and Everett middle schools and Arlington Park and Maybury elementary schools, director of capital improvements Alex Trevino tells Axios.

What they're saying: "This is always a tough decision. But this is certainly a decision we need to consider and need to move forward with," first-year superintendent Angela Chapman said during a meeting Tuesday.

Between the lines: For nearly half of CCS buildings, it's been over 50 years since they were built or received a major renovation.

  • The district nevertheless spends more on maintenance per school than comparable districts nationwide and across Ohio, Chapman noted.

The latest: Board members unanimously approved members for a facilities task force, a move required by board policy when closures are considered.

Between the lines: Tuesday's vote follows two years of adjacent, but different facility-related conversations.

  • In spring 2022, a master plan committee recommended asking voters for a bond issue to build new schools — but the plan was abandoned later that year amid a teacher's strike, when building conditions were a hot topic.
  • Last November, voters approved a levy to fund ongoing maintenance and repairs, but it isn't enough money for new construction or sizable renovations.

What's next: The task force's first meeting will be next Tuesday and a website is coming soon.

  • It will meet twice monthly and is expected to outline recommendations in a report by June.
  • Closures wouldn't occur until the 2025-26 school year at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the district spent over $500,000 in December to hire a project management firm to assess facility conditions, with a report expected by early 2025.

Charted: A decades-long enrollment decline

Data: 1956-2007 from historic district records; 2008-2023 from Ohio Department of Education and Workforce; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: 1956-2007 from historic district records; 2008-2023 from Ohio Department of Education and Workforce; Chart: Axios Visuals

Here's a visual illustrating why CCS doesn't need as many facilities as in the past.

By the numbers: The district's enrollment today is less than half of what it was at its peak in the late '60s and early '70s, when it had about 110,000 students.

  • That means many schools are operating below capacity.

The big picture: In recent years, lower birth rates, increased access to charter and online schools, and parents' frustrations with COVID-19 restrictions have contributed to public school enrollment dropping nationwide, Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Between the lines: Columbus' decline in the '70s, however, coincided with nationwide "white flight," accelerated by a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal courts could use busing to achieve racial balance in schools — something the district began doing in 1979.

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