February 03, 2016A large crowd attending a forum on facilities hosted by Crawford County Community School Corp. Superintendent Garry DeRossett last Wednesday evening learned that, overall, the corporation's six schools are in pretty good shape and, with proper maintenance, should last for several more years. What those in the audience didn't learn, however, is whether each of the five elementary schools will remain open for all of those years.
"The biggest thing I want to talk about is the fact that this building is 40 years old," DeRossett, who was given a 3-1/2-year contract as superintendent a little more than a year ago, told those gathered in the cafeteria at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School. "You can still call it the new building, but it's 40 years old now."
Likewise, he added, it has been "18 to 19 years" since the elementary schools — English, Leavenworth, Marengo, Milltown and Patoka — were renovated.
"That's not meaning they're useless," DeRossett said. "I'm just giving you the age."
Referencing a 2013 report by Dr. Robert Boyd, which is available on the school corporation's website (www.cccs.k12.in.us), DeRossett noted that all six buildings were rated as "average to good," meaning they could still have a functional life of 20 years.
In explaining the rating in regard to Leavenworth Elementary, which was the first school he discussed, DeRossett said, "Now, how bad is that, or how good is that? It's just what it says, average to good. It's not bad, it's not super, but it's still very good, very strong, very capable building."
That doesn't mean that there have not been, and will not be, things that need to be repaired, he said. For instance, a water heater at CCJSHS sprung a leak a couple of weeks ago, causing considerable damage in multiple areas. However, it wasn't as bad as the rumors on social media indicated, where it was being said that there was extensive mold in the rooms, DeRossett said.
"I know there's some things on Facebook saying that, but I guarantee you … it's not there," he said.
DeRossett addressed some of the concerns at each of the corporation's buildings, beginning with the sewage plant at CCJSHS. While he is unsure of its life expectancy, with it being constructed at the same time as the school, it has to be getting close to needing replaced or repaired, he said.
"But that's our only source to take care of sewage (at CCJSHS)," he said. "So, we'll have to make a decision on that and put that in a plan to either fix it, repair it, and there's a lot more rules that have come down."
Other concerns include the upper-level bleachers in the gymnasium, which are estimated to cost about $350,000 to replace, and the cost of utilities, which totaled $135,689 in 2015, DeRossett said.
He said is worried that energy costs will increase, as the Environmental Protection Agency is set to shut down coal-fired turbines, "which means (utility companies) won't be able to use coal to produce electricity, and who do you think they'll pass that dollar on to? They'll send that right down the line to us. So, we really need to look at some alternative energy sources, everything from solar to possibly geothermal."
The problem, DeRossett explained, is those things, including switching to longer-lasting LED lights, have high upfront costs, although they would save the corporation money in the long run.
"We have to look at all of those to see if they benefit us," he said.
Total utility costs for the elementary schools in 2015 ranged from $45,780 to $56,783, with Milltown and Patoka being the highest, he said. PES, because natural gas lines do not run to the building, uses propane, which, while efficient, isn't cheap, he said.
DeRossett warned that, while the junior-senior high school, with proper care, should have several years of use remaining, there is potential for some problems because of past practices.
"A lot of band-aids have been put in this building, and that's not from me. That was from somebody who's lived in the community for a long time," he said. "In other words, if something would happen, instead of really fixing it properly, they would fix it, put paint on it and walk away."
Among the concerns at the elementary schools is the need for better Internet service at Leavenworth, DeRossett said.
"Leavenworth has a wireless situation which is always precarious. It's a line of sight to get Internet to Leavenworth," he said, explaining that, with no fiber optic cable run to the school, it relies on a signal from Marengo Elementary that is beamed to a tower and then transferred to LES.
"So, is that something we look at, building a fiber optic cable to them to keep that?" DeRossett asked. "Right now, that's our only source for Internet at that building. Not reliable."
DeRossett added that a new gas water heater, at a cost of $8,000, was installed at Marengo. He noted that each building has three heaters.
The other elementary schools also have had issues, including storm damage at Milltown at the beginning of the school year and a steel pipe dissolving at Patoka that resulted in a major leak beneath the floor in the mechanical room and problems with the mound sewage system, DeRossett said.
DeRossett didn't speak of any major issues at English, but he said there are security concerns. The surveillance cameras are good, but the building's main entrance, although locked like all of the buildings requiring visitors to buzz and the office, doesn't feature a second set of doors like the other buildings, he said.
"The buildings aren't falling apart, don't get me wrong. But there are needs that need to be addressed and taken care of, or they will get to a situation where they're not good," DeRossett said.
Referencing Boyd's report, which he encouraged everyone to read, DeRossett said the buildings are far from capacity.
"There's some concern that in all the buildings we have excessive space, and what that means is, and you know that, our enrollment has gone down. So, you have excessive space in all those buildings. Some of those buildings are at 50-percent capacity," he said.
According to a handout he gave the audience, CCJSHS, which includes grades 7 through 12, has 683 students, followed by Milltown (208), Marengo (189), Leavenworth (177), Patoka (139) and English (120). When it was pointed out by an audience member that Patoka actually has an enrollment of 150, not including preschool students, DeRossett said the numbers likely are what were reported to the state earlier in the year and that they tend to fluctuate.
Some members of the audience expressed disappointment after the meeting that neither DeRossett nor any of the corporation's trustees (Kim Howerton, Traci Kerns, Danny Mitchell and Myrna Sanders were present, while Kelly Hammond, Lance Stroud and Dennis Talley were absent) talked about the likelihood of one of the elementary schools being closed, despite the possibility first having been discussed prior to Boyd's 2013 report.
However, DeRossett said the purpose of the community forum — his second since becoming superintendent — was to discuss the state of the facilities and to begin dialogue regarding what upgrades the community would like to see once existing debt, including on the renovation of the elementary schools, begins being retired in 2020 and is fully retired in 2023. He offered an auditorium at the junior-senior high school and art rooms at the elementary schools as examples.
"Those are things we need to put in a plan, if that's what we want in our buildings in the next three and five years," he said.
"Some of it will be driven by the curriculum itself, because that's constantly changing. Some of it will be driven by security and dollars."
Regardless, the corporation needs to put a plan in place prior to those funds becoming available, DeRossett said.
"If you don't, it's pretty hard to put it into gear in one year," he said.
DeRossett encouraged community members to contact him with their suggestions.
"We need to hear those ideas, because you know what? It may be something we've never heard or thought about," he said.
An audience member noted that such a plan has been talked about previously.
"Is that going to be brought up at the next meeting, or are we actually going to do a plan?" she said.
DeRossett answered that the school board has had discussions about the plan and there has been talk of public work sessions. He added that he agrees "100 percent that is has to get started."
"If we don't get started, we don't get anywhere," he said.