Review of elementary school options continues

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — After a public work session Wednesday evening, the Greater Jasper School Board is still considering plans to either build a new elementary school and expand Ireland Elementary School or to simply repair the current facilities.

The board and school administrators met with representatives from Indianapolis architectural firm Gibraltar Design and Indianapolis financial advisers City Securities Corp. for another in a string of meetings to help them determine the best course of action to make the district elementary schools more efficient. About 20 community members, including Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz and city Planning Director Darla Blazey, gathered to hear more about the ideas that the board has pinpointed so far.

First, Jim Thompson, president of Gibraltar Design, elaborated on a possible plan to spend the next 10 to 12 years restoring the three existing elementary buildings — Fifth Street, Tenth Street and Ireland —instead of closing facilities and building a new one.

Because the actual building structures do not need to be repaired, board member Mike Braun said that the board must explore the option of keeping them and restoring them to last for another 20 years.

“It’s very important for what we have to decide moving forward,” Braun said. “The buildings, structurally, seem to be in good shape.”

According to Thompson, such a strategy would cost the board about $34.5 million over 10 years and would require constant construction in each building during that time. Each building is in need of upgrades to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, floors, walls, roofs and parking lots. They also are considered too small according to Indiana Department of Education guidelines based on their student population sizes.

“Bear in mind, it’s not a lot of fun to have a building under construction for 10 years,” Thompson said. “This work is not work that you just get done over the summer each year. Principals and teachers are great at tolerating it for a couple years, but after that, it just gets disruptive.”

If the board decides to close Fifth and Tenth Street schools to make way for an new, state-of-the-art elementary, some “Band-Aid” repairs still would be required in the interim, Thompson said. He said if the board decides to build a new school, it should budget about $800,000 for repairs between 2013 and 2016 because the earliest any new facility could open would be 2016.

Corporation clerk-of-the works Scott Stenftenagel of The Stenftenagel Group in Jasper informed board members that they could opt to take a more conservative path by choosing to upgrade the current facilities to last for just 10 more years. That plan would cost the board $10 to $13 million.

One concern that comes with keeping the current schools intact is stormwater drainage, Thompson explained. Because of their locations, both Fifth and Tenth Street schools have experienced problems with indoor flooding or humidity.

Thompson also explained the new building plan that the board has identified as the most viable. It involves adding classroom space on the east end of Ireland Elementary to improve individualized and project-based learning spaces in the school and remedying morning and afternoon traffic jams by building an access road.

The plan also would require the board to find a 15-acre parcel of land in Jasper on which to build a new, 750-student school that would meet current educational standards. Thompson originally had told the board that this plan would cost around $32 million, but he did more research and has revised the estimate to $42 million.

Jim Elizondo of City Securities presented a possible financing plan should the board opt to build a new school. If the corporation would seek a construction referendum during the May 2014 elections, taxpayers likely would see an increase of 18 to 31 cents per $100 of assessed value on their tax bills beginning in 2015. That amounts to an additional $300 per year in property taxes for a family living in a $200,000 home.

Superintendent Tracy Lorey said this morning that the board has not made any decisions regarding the reconfiguration of the elementary schools. She said the board likely will schedule another meeting to gather more information soon.

“We are simply trying to arm ourselves with enough information so we can make a good decision,” she said.

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