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Board approves high-school improvements

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No one objects at hearing for $10 million project

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY – The nation is in a difficult economic climate, but for anyone who wants or needs to buy a home or car, the conditions are favorable, Joan Hess said during a 1028 hearing Tuesday for construction proposed at Tell City High School. “If you need to fix your school, now is the time to do it,” she added.

No one wants to pay higher taxes, Hess continued, “but what we can gain from this improvement to our corporation will far outweigh any tax impact that we may feel. I don’t have any more children who will be coming through this school corporation, but I want the children of this community to be proud of the school they’re in. I want the adults, the parents, the community members, the grandparents and those who’ve never had children, to be proud … and I applaud you for revisiting this, for not giving up on it.”

Hess is a former school-board member and participated in community-committee examinations of the school’s renovation needs.

An initial effort to launch more than $16 million worth of renovations was shot down by a public remonstrance in 2007. After waiting a required year, the Tell City-Troy Township School Board approved $2 million worth of the work deemed highest priority from among those plans, and it’s under way now, funded by an interest-free qualified zone academy bond.

Further improvements de-scribed at Tuesday’s hearing are pegged at $10 million, and will be the subject of a Nov. 3 referendum. The school board has several options in how to fund the work, which could make differences in the amount of interest to be paid.

The work now under way has shown the climate to be favorable to getting more work for the money spent, the board found after receiving initial bids. Because they came in lower than expected, the board was able to seek bids for additional work to be accomplished with the  $2 million.

“This 1028 hearing is about opportunity … to complete a much-needed project at a time when market conditions are very favorable to bidding,” Schools Superin-tendent Ron Etienne said after the hearing’s purpose was explained by Thomas Peterson, bond counsel from the Ice Miller law firm in Indianapolis. The school corporation may be able to receive interest-free financing through the federal government’s economic-stimulus program, Etienne said, which carries a Nov. 13 deadline.

A favorable outcome at the Nov. 3 referendum would allow the corporation to meet that deadline, Etienne said.

The superintendent was brought out of retirement to fill a position he knew would prove challenging for some financial issues he’d have to deal with. He didn’t know he’d also face challenges wrought by a high-school building whose major maintenance needs hadn’t been properly addressed in decades.

The $16 million project was his effort to remedy problems arising from that neglect. After it was defeated, two community-based committees were formed to examine the building’s needs and make recommendations on how to bring the building to satisfactory condition. After the most-critical construction was begun in the $2 million project, Etienne opted to delay his return to retirement and attempt to launch the remainder of the needed work.

Legislation enacted last year changed the rules under which that could happen. “Circuit-breakers” were im-posed, limiting the amount of taxes all taxing units in a county can impose on homeowners, but those in a particular taxing unit, such as a school district, can waive the caps by approving a project in an election.

Based on a “heads-up” Etienne provided to the county clerk, she and county election-board officials have taken initial steps toward scheduling a Nov. 3 referendum. As The News reported July 16,  they’re planning to have all school-district voters cast paper ballots in the county courthouse that day.   

Among changes to be made if voters approve the work is a closing of the city’s junior-high school. Sixth-graders would attend Wil-liam Tell Elementary School and seventh- and eighth graders would go to classes in the high-school building, but be separated from the older students.

“That was the consensus of the second committee and is my recommendation,” Etienne told the board. The overall project will give students an environment conducive to learning with more-recent technology, he said.

The building’s southeast corner is identified for major renovations in the architect’s plan, and would contain 10 general-purpose classrooms, two science labs, two art rooms and a graphic-arts room. Minor renovations are planned for the area immediately north of those, and include special-education, wrestling, music and science rooms. Etienne has said from the beginning of his renovation efforts he wanted to move special-education students out of a basement classroom where they now meet.

New construction would come in the area south of a courtyard in the middle of the building, where a new media center, library and computer lab would be built. Two restrooms would be added there, as well. Ad-ministrative, nurses’ and guidance offices and a study hall would be built west of that area in further minor construction. Visitors to the building would be limited to entry through the office area to increase security.

The kitchen will be “gutted,” said Scott Veazey of the Veazey, Parrott and Shoul-ders architectural firm of Evansville toward the installation of new equipment and a new serving line. All athletic facilities will be moved to the north side of the building and bleachers and railings in the Bryan Taylor Sports Arena will be re-placed.

Sidewalks around the building will be renovated to accommodate wheelchairs and a parking lot used for band practice will be re-paved. Some landscaping will be included in the project and security lighting will be installed around the building.Peterson explained at the hearing’s outset one of its purposes was to seek questions and comments, positive or negative, concerning the proposed work. No one spoke against it.

Financing options included in the school board’s approval of the project will be reported in Monday’s edition.