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Project would renovate old, worn-out school


May 21, 2008
A renovation project at the "old and worn out" Morgan Elementary School could begin as early as next year, if all goes as planned by the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees.

The school board held the required 1028 Hearing Thursday night, May 8, at North Harrison Middle School. During the hearing, which lasted nearly two hours, a PowerPoint presentation was made about the condition of the school, located south of Palmyra, a time frame was outlined and questions were answered. The 1028 Hearing is required by state law because the project will exceed $2 million.

"Basically, we have an inequity between the two elementary schools," said Dr. Phil Partenheimer, North Harrison's superintendent.

A renovation project of North Harrison Elementary School is nearing completion; Morgan Elementary hasn't been updated since 1974. MES also has a smaller cafeteria as well as smaller and inadequate classrooms compared to those at NHES, Partenheimer said. And because of an increase in the number of students at Morgan, a portable classroom will be needed next school year.

Representatives of Kovert Hawkins architects in Jeffersonville gave the PowerPoint presentation, which was similar to the one given at the February school board meeting.

"We tried to identify the problems before we come up with solutions," said John Hawkins, who said Morgan Elementary could have problems meeting the fire code in its hallways because they are often used for tutoring areas.

The presentation pointed out that the building also has old lighting, issues with structure and ADA accessibility, no room for supplies, poor roof drainage and lacks a secure entrance for visitors.

"The building has been extremely well maintained, (but) it's about at the end of its life," Hawkins said. Regardless, "I think the people (at MES) have done the best they can with what they have."

Kovert Hawkins' recommendation is to build a new classroom wing to the east of the existing structure, convert the old wing into a new cafeteria, demolish the existing kitchen and cafeteria, and create new handicap-accessible rest rooms at the gymnasium. This would be done in stages, beginning with bids awarded by February, the new classrooms ready by August and the project finished by August 2010. The project was estimated at $15 million.

Umbaugh & Associates, a certified public accounting adviser to local governments, put the first impact on taxpayers in the North Harrison school district in 2009. Using "maximum" perimeters, the tax rate for homeowners would increase by 18.13 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 2011, thanks to riverboat funds the school corporation receives. (Without the boat money, the increase would be 24.69 cents per $100 assessed valuation.)

"Morgan students and parents have waited patiently for this to come," said Keith Jones, who has children attending MES. "It's definitely a need. ... There's no better time than the present to build this building."

Greg Rupp, a teacher at NHES and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association, contends the school board helped create the overcrowding problem at Morgan, which he agreed is worn out and small, when it closed the upper elementary school in 2005 and moved the fifth-graders back to the elementary buildings and placed the sixth-graders at the middle school.

He said the board was "dooming" the school corporation to many more years of low morale if they proceeded with the project before settling the teacher contract dispute, now in its fourth year.

Another teacher, Dan Haskell, lobbied for putting the fifth- and sixth-graders back together, which would alleviate overcrowding at MES.

"I'm not against renovating," he said. "This middle school needs renovating, too. Let's not make this a competition. … First and foremost, it has to be (about) what's best for the students."

Partenheimer said moving the students to another worn-out building doesn't solve the problem.

MES Principal Lance Richards painted a visual picture of how small the classrooms are at Morgan, partly because more square footage is needed to make room for needed items, such as computers, leaving no room for the Smartboards he is working toward getting for each classroom.

"There are functional things we need that we don't have," he said, which is impacting the students' learning.

Jerry Renneker, who won the Morgan Township seat on the school board in the recent election and will take office July 1, asked if there are other options to consider due to increasing fuel and food prices, but none were offered at the time.

The school board voted 4-0 (school trustee Bobby Chinn was not present) to adopt a resolution to proceed with the project.

Property taxpayers in the community have 30 days from today (Wednesday) to initiate a remonstrance process that could at least delay the project for a year.

In other matters Thursday night, the school trustees:

•Heard an update from Donnie Timberlake of James L. Shireman construction company regarding the NHES project, which is on schedule.

Board president Ron Coleman asked why the building doesn't look like the "pretty rendering" that is in the administrative office.

Jerry Firestone, director of educational planning for RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects, answered that it's because the slope of the roof was changed to keep the project within the approved budget.

"Quite honestly, we were trying to save you money," he said. "We pride ourselves on not building a Taj Mahal."

"You did a good job," replied trustee Gary Byrne, who added that he has heard "a lot of complaints" about the outside appearance of the school building.

Firestone admitted the facility could have "looked better aesthetically" but configurations for the second-story addition prohibited that.

"We were doing what we thought best for the community," he said.

•Approved spending a total of $40,355, from Capital Projects fund, for improvements to the football practice fields.

•Increased lunch prices 10 cents, to $2.25, at NHHS, beginning with the 2008-09 school year.

•Approved the NHHS handbook, with revisions, for the 2008-09 school year.

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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