Petition filed to halt Morgan school project
June 25, 2008
A petition was filed earlier this month in hopes of stopping, or at least delaying, the renovation of Morgan Elementary School.
Greg Rupp, a teacher at North Harrison Elementary School and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association, said 124 signatures — 24 more than the minimum required — were on the petition filed Wednesday, June 11, in the Harrison County Circuit Clerk's Office. The signatures, he said, are those "of concerned citizens" of the school corporation that includes Morgan and North Harrison Elementary, North Harrison Middle and North Harrison High schools.
"We object on several points," Rupp said.
Among them, he said, are that they believe Dr. Phil Partenheimer, the school superintendent, is trying to rush getting the project approved before the makeup of the five-member board changes next month (two current board members were unseated in last month's election); that Partenheimer wants the project, which has an estimated price tag of $15 million, to be given the go-ahead before a new state law that changes how building projects are approved takes effect July 1; and because of the board's track record with regard to the NHES renovation project that is nearing completion. (Board members said at recent meetings that they were not aware of changes made in the project that affected the outward appearance of the school building.)
While the school board has heard public comments off and on for many months about the need to renovate MES, which has not had any major updates since 1974, no action had been taken to pursue such a project. Then, at the February board meeting, representatives from Kovert Hawkins architects in Jeffersonville made a PowerPoint presentation outlining a plan that would renovate the old, worn-out, overcrowded school.
At that time, a petition bearing the signature of 24 Morgan Elementary teachers was presented to the school board indicating that they believed any available money should be used for teacher salaries before being used to remodel or add on to MES. Teachers in the North Harrison Community School Corp. have been operating on a contract that expired four years ago.
The board proceeded to vote, 5-0, to consider a renovation project at Morgan Elementary.
Kovert Hawkins representatives came back again in May with another PowerPoint presentation as part of the state-required 1028 Hearing, outlining a time frame for the project that would address old lighting, issues with the structure and ADA accessibility, lack of storage space, poor roof drainage and security issues. The architect recommended building a new classroom wing to the east of the existing structure, converting the old wing into a new cafeteria, demolishing the existing kitchen and cafeteria, and creating new handicap-accessible rest rooms at the gymnasium. The work would be done in stages, beginning with bids awarded by February, the new classrooms ready by August and the project finished by August 2010.
Following the hearing, the board voted 4-0 (school trustee Bobby Chinn was not in attendance) to adopt a resolution to proceed with the project.
At this month's board meeting, held June 12, the trustees voted 5-0 to authorize Kovert Hawkins as the architect for the project. Partenheimer said the project will essentially have no bearing on taxpayers in the district because of the retiring of other school debt.
Rupp asked, after filing the remonstrance, why a "qualified bonding agent" who made a presentation at the May board meeting about the impact an additional renovation project would have on taxpayers indicated otherwise. The agent, employed by Umbaugh & Associates, said, if the project was approved, the first impact would occur in 2009. Using "maximum" perimeters, she said, the tax rate for homeowners would increase by 18.13 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in 2011, because of using some money from the Rainy Day fund. (Without the Rainy Day money, the increase would be 24.69 cents per $100 assessed valuation.)
The county clerk's office is in the process of verifying the signatures submitted on the petition last week. Rupp said a 30-day "cooling off period" will follow, then both sides — proponents as well as opponents to the proposed project — will have 30 days to collect as many legitimate signatures as possible.
"Whichever one has the most (at the end of that time) wins," Rupp said, adding that those spearheading the objection to the project will run an aggressive approach to gather as many signatures as possible.