School plan could close Tenth Street

Justin Rumbach/The Herald
The Greater Jasper School Board considered the closure of Tenth Street School during a work session Monday as they discussed the reconfiguration of the three corporation elementary schools.

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — The Greater Jasper School Board began planning Monday evening for the reconfiguration of the three corporation elementary schools, which likely will lead to the closure of Tenth Street School.

Jim Thompson, president of Indianapolis-based architecture firm Gibraltar Design, met with school administrators, elementary school principals and school board members at a Monday work session to go over in detail the company’s plan for the future of the corporation. The design firm conducted a feasibility study at all three schools in March and April to assess the functionality of each building.

Thompson said that none of the three schools meets recommended size requirements for its student population. He explained that the trend in primary education is to create plenty of individualized learning space for small-group instruction as well as larger lab areas for project-based learning and collaboration among teachers, none of which is present in the current buildings.

“Our teachers are required to meet the unique learning needs of all of our students,” Superintendent Tracy Lorey said at the meeting. “Imagine what the teachers and students could do if we provided them with a facility that  enhances and supports the programming.”

Thompson showed the school officials that, according to the Department of Education guidelines, Fifth Street School is 14,000 square feet below the recommended size, Tenth Street School is 8,000 square feet too small and Ireland Elementary School needs to grow by at least 13,500 square feet. Fifth Street and Ireland are only 68,000 square feet each, and while Tenth Street is 87,500 square feet, its split-level arrangement and lack of large instruction spaces necessitate growth.

“That guideline is just the minimum standard. If you were building a new school, we would never recommend you build to the minimum guideline,” Thompson said. “You are using every square foot and then some in the schools.”

Thompson presented three construction options. Gibraltar Design will expand on elements of each of them for further discussion with school officials. All of the options involve dissolving Tenth Street School, home to grades three through five, and most add third, fourth and fifth grades to Fifth Street School, which currently serves only preschool through second-grade students.

Thompson explained that Tenth Street School is not an option for the corporation in the long term because of limits on expansion. The site has very little parking, drop-off of students occurs on a city street, the school owns almost none of the surrounding land and the location of administrative offices in the center of the school makes it vulnerable to safety breaches. To bring the building up to a viable standard, Thompson estimates the corporation would need to spend more than $8 million on that 53-year-old building alone, which amounts to about half of the cost of an entirely new building.

“Are you going to invest more money in an asset that has challenges?” Thompson asked. Board members Mike Braun, Greg Eckerle and Bernie Vogler — the only three of the five members at the optional work session — agreed that money would be better spent elsewhere.

The first option is to create three kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school buildings in the corporation by closing Tenth Street, expanding Fifth Street and Ireland Elementary to house a combined 1,000 students and constructing a new, state-of-the-art school building with a 500-student capacity. This plan would cost about $34.5 million. Adding space to the southwest side of the Fifth Street building would require a better plan for stormwater diversion at the school.
Ireland also would need a new driveway to wrap around the entire school building and safely divert traffic from busy streets.

The second option would result in only two kindergarten-through-fifth-grade buildings with the closure of Tenth Street, the conversion of Fifth Street to a two-story, 700-student building and the expansion of Ireland Elementary along the east and south sides. This option would cost about $28 million.

A third option would close both Tenth Street and Fifth Street schools and expand Ireland Elementary to house 600 students. A new 900-student building would be constructed. This plan would cost about $31.5 million.

No decisions on any of the proposals were made. While the corporation continues to plan for the long-term elementary school future, the board will consider pressing repairs — including heating, ventilation, roof and plumbing upgrades — at each school to ensure building health until a new configuration is made.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




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