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NH board will look at options

School trustees could vote soon to proceed with $15-M project

July 02, 2008
The North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees is expected to look at its options when it meets later this month regarding a proposed school building renovation project.

Dr. Phil Partenheimer, superintendent of the school corporation, anticipates the five-member board will vote at its July or August meeting to proceed with the renovation of Morgan Elementary School despite a petition filed June 11 by 124 objectors to the project which has been estimated at $15 million.

Partenheimer contends the project is necessary to bring the school, built in 1950 and last remodeled in 1974, in line with the other elementary school, North Harrison Elementary, that serves the school district which is nearing completion of a two-year renovation project that includes an addition.

"To me, it's an issue of parity," he said. "Here, you have one brand-new building with all of the updated technology, CO2 sensors, then you have (MES) ... with current code violations and crowded conditions."

Approximately 510 students attend MES, located south of Palmyra, in grades kindergarten through five. Based on projected enrollments for this fall, a portable classroom will be needed, and Partenheimer expects to have to add one additional portable each school year for the next three years, based on the number of students estimated to attend Morgan Elementary.

"It's urgent for children to be in classrooms instead of portables," Partenheimer said.

He added that special education classes meet in a book storage room rather than a classroom.

Lance Richards, principal at MES, described at the May school board meeting, which included the state required 1028 Hearing for building projects, how small classroom sizes don't allow room for today's technology, such as computers and Smartboards that he believes are needed in each classroom. He said the lack of "functional things" has a negative impact on the students' learning opportunities. Richards further described how narrow hallways are used for teaching areas, creating possible fire code violations. Cafeteria conditions also keep some children in line longer to get their food than the amount of time they have to eat it.

Two additional safety concerns of Partenheimer's, which he reiterated late last month, are the parking lot, with regard to children getting on and off the buses with car riders also using the same loading/unloading area and that visitors can gain access to the school without being seen by office personnel.

"A huge safety to me is to re-design the office space so visitors have to come through the office," he said.

The superintendent said he can reduce the amount of the project to be funded by $4 million, down to $11 million, and that taxpayers will still only be paying on two buildings, like they were when the NHES project was approved. He said this can be accomplished by taking part of the capital projects money and by selling 20-year bonds.

Partenheimer urges taxpayers to contact their school trustees about the proposed project.

"You've elected a school board," he said. "Call them to see how and why they support this. Maybe they can clear up" any misconceptions that might surround the project.

If the school board votes to proceed with the project, then proponents and opponents of the project will have 30 days to gather as many signatures as possible to show support for their stance. If more people object to the project than those who favor it, a referendum will be held, allowing all voters in the school district to have a say whether the project will be allowed.

"It really boils down to what's best for the children," Partenheimer said.

The next school board meeting will be Tuesday, July 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the North Harrison Middle School library. (Normally, the school board meets the second Thursday of each month; however, this month's meeting was changed to allow the board members to attend a state meeting.)

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