Architect recommends closing Celestine Elementary

Photo by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Celestine Elementary School students return to class after a fire drill on Dec. 13.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

DUBOIS — The crowd offered few comments Monday night after George Link with VPS Architecture of Evansville presented the draft of his recommendations for the school board, which included closing Celestine Elementary after the 2019-20 school year.

A crowd of about 70 people gathered in the cafeteria at Northeast Dubois High School for the last community meeting in Link’s study to hear his recommendations, which included renovations to the high school and middle school in the immediate future and the eventual closure of Celestine Elementary. After Link’s presentation, only a handful of audience members offered comments, and the meeting wrapped after an hour and a half, about half the length of the previous two meetings.

Link’s recommendations still require school board approval, and Link will present his recommendations to the board at its meeting this month, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the corporation office, 5379 Main St., Dubois. The meeting is open to the public.

The corporation hired Link to help the board plan facilities-use projects for up to $3 million since the corporation will have some debt paid off this year. School boards typically pursue new projects after debt is paid off so that they can maintain facilities while keeping the amount of debt steady, and thus tax rates steady as well.

Link’s study is meant to help the board plan its upcoming facilities improvements in a way that will help eliminate the need for the general fund referendum when the current referendum, which passed in 2017, ends in 2024. The study is coming to a close.

In his recommendations, Link suggests using the $3 million to renovate the career and tech classrooms and science labs at the high school and the family and consumer science classroom at Dubois Middle School, turning it into multiple classrooms. Link estimated those renovations at $3.1 million.

“Those are typically very costly renovations, just because of the amount of utilities involved,” Link said of the career, tech and science labs.

If the school board approves Link’s proposal, he estimated that the renovations could be complete by the 2020-21 school year.

Looking to the future, Link recommended moving the fourth grade to the middle school beginning with the 2019-20 year. Then, for the 2020-21 school year, Link recommended moving all the elementary students to Dubois Elementary and closing the Celestine school.

That recommendation, Link said, is simply due to enrollment trends. Currently, the school corporation has enough space for 1,300 between its four buildings, but a total enrollment of 819. Projections show the corporation’s enrollment continuing to decrease, forcing the school board to make hard decisions to avoid another general fund referendum. One of those hard decisions will be whether or not to close Celestine Elementary, the smaller of the corporation’s two elementary schools.

“For the sake of our kids, I hope that whatever decision the board makes, the community can get behind it and support our school,” said Cassie Beyke of Celestine.

Beyke and her husband, Nathan, are 2002 graduates of Northeast Dubois, and their son is a first-grader at Celestine.

Cassie said it’s disappointing to see her alma mater go through such a hard time, but she’s optimistic that the coming changes could be a positive thing for the school, leading to a stronger corporation as a whole.

Ashley Seger of Celestine shared her concerns about moving the fourth-graders into the middle school. If the board approves the change, her son will be in the first fourth-grade class at the middle school.

Although she doesn’t oppose moving the fourth grade, she does want to make sure the fourth-graders will be adequately separated from the older students, particularly the seventh and eighth grades and particularly during lunch and passing periods.

“The maturity level between fourth and eighth grades is so vast that I would like to see something to keep them separate,” Seger said.

Despite her concerns, Seger said having more grade levels in a single building comes with advantages. She teachers first grade at Perry Central where preschool through 12th grade is all in the same building.

“It comes with awesome opportunities because high school students can come and help me in my classroom,” Seger said. “But when (the grades) need to be separate, they’re separate.”

Another comment encouraged administrators to look for school safety grants and, if awarded any grants, to incorporate some safety improvements into the project. Another person wanted to see all the schools brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and another suggested cosmetic work to the high school entrance.

Link said he’d see about adding those suggestions into his final recommendations for the board.

The next steps are in the hands of the school board, which will begin its discussion of Link’s recommendations at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15.




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