School board approves renovations for high school

Photo courtesy Northeast Dubois Schools Facebook.


DUBOIS — The Northeast Dubois School Board approved moving forward with renovations to Northeast Dubois High School at its meeting Tuesday night.

Although construction is still months away, the board will hold a public hearing on taking out $4.5 million in bonds for renovations at the high school to accommodate seventh through 12th grades. Currently, the high school serves ninth through 12th grades and Dubois Middle School serves fifth through eighth.

At its last work session earlier this month, the board heard a presentation from Jim Elizondo, an investment banker with Stifel Public Finance of Fort Wayne. According to Elizondo’s models, the corporation can take on up to $3.5 million in its debt service fund — which is funded by property taxes and used for large construction projects — without raising the tax rate.

The corporation can borrow up to $4.5 million this year without hitting the point where state law allows for remonstrance or a construction referendum, but that extra $1 million would result in an increased tax rate.

The board will hold a public hearing on borrowing $4.5 million at its May meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at the corporation office, 5379 Main St., Dubois.

At Tuesday’s regular board meeting, architect George Link with VPS Architecture of Evansville, who has been working with the corporation since the fall of 2018 to plan for future needs, presented an updated renovation plan for the high school that would create a seventh- and eighth-grade wing at the high school that connects to the industrial technology and art classrooms via an additional hallway.

The plans also include renovations to current high school science labs and updates to the career and industrial technology areas.

Link estimated the project to cost about $4.37 million. His estimate did not account for costs associated with bonding. A rough timeline for the project — dubbed Phase I — has the project going to bid in September, with construction spanning October to August 2020.

Looking beyond 2020, Link planned for the construction of an additional gymnasium and renovations to the current locker room areas, as well as work at Dubois Middle School, depending on needs identified in a couple years. That project is being called Phase II.

The board is pursuing a construction project now because the corporation will pay off a chunk of debt this year, freeing up some space in the debt service fund. School corporations use the debt service fund to cover larger construction projects. To do so, schools generally wait until previous debt is paid off, then take on new debt to keep a steady property tax rate.

According to the financial models Elizondo shared earlier this month, if the board borrows $4.5 million this year, the tax levy for the debt service fund will increase about 7 cents per $100 of assessed value over the 2018 rate. The model also shows additional debt falling off in 2020, allowing the board to again borrow $4.5 million while maintaining a relatively stable tax rate.

The end goal of the construction projects in the works now is to create an education structure for the corporation that eliminates the need for an education fund referendum. The school currently operates with a referendum that voters approved in 2016, but it will expire in 2024.

The board has involved the public with its planning process so far, and the public continues to be invited to participate. The bond hearing set for May 21 is open to the public.

To close the meeting, Board President Mary Pankey thanked everyone who has been part of the planning process so far, especially school staff and members of the public who shared their opinions.

“I want to say how much I appreciate the endless hours of work that went into these first stages,” she said. “Lots of people have invested a lot of time and heart into finding the best education process for Northeast Dubois.”

The school board also:

• Discussed phone connection issues at Celestine Elementary. The corporation’s new phone system runs on an internet connection, and Celestine doesn’t have enough bandwidth to reliably support the system. Administrators are working with Five-Star Technology Solutions of Sellersburg, who set up the system, to find a solution.

• Approved the following field trips: the Future Farmers of America to state wildlife competition, state livestock competition and state convention in West Lafayette and to Munden, West Virginia, for white water rafting; and the animal class to the Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky, to shadow a zookeeper.

• Approved the summer school schedule and staffing.

• Approved summer programs for sports teams.

• Approved using e-Funds for Schools of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to offer online payment for school fees, such as book bills and lunch accounts. Parents will have the option of signing up for the service and paying the fees with either a direct bank account withdrawal or a credit card. Bank withdrawals will have a $1 service fee per transaction, and credit card transactions with have a service fee of $2.65 per $100.

• Approved Superintendent Bill Hochgesang to enter another contract with George Link of VPS Architecture of Evansville for architecture work on the $4.5 million project following the bond hearing and decision.

• Accepted the retirements of Elementary Principal Brenda Ferguson and Assistant Maintenance Director Larry Hall.

• Heard the following upcoming events: no school on Friday, April 19, or Monday, April 22; the senior banquet at the high school at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 10; a student recognition open house at the high school from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15; a student recognition open house at Dubois Middle School from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 16; preschool graduation at Dubois Elementary at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22; middle school graduation at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 23; the last day of school on Friday, May 24; and high school graduation at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

• Heard that the preschool program will be featured in a directory being put together by the Indiana University Early Childhood Center and the Indiana Department of Education Office of Special Education as an exemplary program for students with special needs.

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