Board considers school renovations

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Public input still sought on multi-million-dollar plans

TELL CITY - School-board and committee members met Thursday to discuss construction options for Tell City High School in what Schools Superintendent Ron Etienne called one more step toward deciding on a plan to go forward with.

Going forward will entail efforts to gain public acceptance of a plan to bring the building up to standards that people involved in discussions so far agree have declined. Thursday's special meeting was the first in which board members had a real opportunity to discuss plans they were presented Sept. 9. Those came from the work of two committees, which worked in succession to define needs and form, then refine as a combined group recommendations for renovations and new construction.

From the board's side of the table and from the audience at Thursday's meeting came suggestions to more closely examine possibilities in using existing space before adding to the building.

Before discussion of the options got under way, board member Larry Bryant said he'd attended an Indiana School Boards Association annual conference, and summed up a session he attended on the future of funding for all tax-dependent government entities by saying "it's not pretty; it hasn't been pretty for nine years ... but one thing is for sure: taxes are going to go up in Indiana."

Board member Dr. Gene Ress also attended the conference, and said a demographer there "flatly stated that in the next 10 years, school populations will be going down" throughout the state. Only 36 percent of households have children, he continued, "so do the math - that means 64 percent do not." An aging population and their lack of connection to the city's schools, he added, will make it difficult to convince people of a need for costly work.

Evansville Architect Scott Veazey presented "a summary of what I believe I heard at the last meeting of the joint committee." Nine options had been examined, he said, but the committees ruled several out and sent four to the board. Plan C would have the original 1928 portion of the high school renovated for use as junior-high classrooms, reflecting the committees' decision that maintaining the current junior-high building will be too costly.

Plan D would add new construction instead of renovating the '28 portion. Plan E was broader in scope, Veazey said, and would bring new construction for all facilities to be shared among junior-high and high-school functions.

That plan, which Schools Superintendent Ron Etienne said previously would best prepare the building for the future, won overwhelming support in the latest meeting of the two committees, but lost popularity after discussion of its cost. Plan F was simply Plan E without a new gymnasium that committee members felt will be necessary when seventh- and eighth-graders are moved into the high-school building. Sixth-graders would be retained at William Tell Elementary School under plans that include closing the junior-high building.

A Plan G grew out of discussion at the Sept. 11 meeting, Veazey said, and "incorporated where we might want to be 20 to 25 years from now." Another option may exist, he continued, that would have only the absolutely necessary work done.

That would include new restrooms, renovations in the music areas, kitchen and cafeteria, science classrooms and labs, a wooden floor in the auxiliary gym and conversion of auto-shop and health areas for use by special-education classes, the architect said. The construction cost of that "base option," as board member Tom Holm called it, would be approximately $3.2 million, Veazey said. Another 15 to 20 percent should be added to construction costs to include financing and other expenses, Etienne said.

The options Veazey presented included variations on converting the current library and courtyard into offices or classrooms and sported price tags up to $16.2 million. For the plans that don't include a new gymnasium, nearly $2 million would need to be added if one is included.

Board member Jerry Hoagland asked how difficult it would be to move junior-high students to the high school without adding a gym.

"It would be a large strain," Etienne said.

Veazey noted that some renovations could be put off to later, and said any that are done would include upgrades to improve energy efficiency, lighting and technology infrastructure. "The classrooms would be updated so they could provide 20 to 25 years' service," he said.

From the audience, Tell City Mayor Barbara Ewing asked whether the sale of the superintendent's office on 17th Street had been considered. Etienne said it had, but the cost of renovations needed for a superintendent and staff hadn't been calculated.

Joe Clayton, a member of the first committee to study the issue, asked about moving industrial-arts classes to the Ivy Tech Community College building, which that school leases from the city. High-school Principal Dale Stewart said at a committee meeting talks toward such a move had been initiated.

Bryant asked that a calculation be provided at the board's next meeting showing how many students could be accommodated if all of the available space is used. Bryant noted an area behind the auditorium stage, which he called "cavernous," is unused. Ress pointed out another under that is now used only for storage of band equipment.

Ress noted his support of athletic programs is widely known in the community before suggesting that scheduling be used to avoid the cost of a new gym. "I know it would prick some people, but I think we need to forget a new gym," he said. Returning to the need to get public support of any project, he said people who aren't sure could be pushed one way or the other based on the amount of new construction. "We're trying to get down to seven or eight million dollars. We may have to push some things together. With a minimum of new construction, I think we can have a junior and senior high at much less cost," he said. He also noted more than 300 students met in the original building in the early 1950s and 900 were enrolled in the early '70s.

Speaking to the committee members and few others who attended the meeting, Etienne said, "I hope, as we continue this process, you people come back and bring someone with you. I know this will be a difficult sell; we're in tough economic times. The more input we can get, the better."

Bryant suggested board meetings be conducted at different times and places to make them easier for people to attend. He was quoted in a Sept. 11 News story as saying his phone number is in local phone books, and asked how many board members received calls. Etienne was the only one who responded, and said a couple of people called him to say they were unhappy Thursday's meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m.

Ress returned to his discussion of the presentation he attended at the school-board-association conference, where a popular notion was dispelled.

"The demographer said good schools do not attract people to a community, but bad schools drive people away," he said. "Educationally, we do well," he continued, citing some accomplishments of Tell City students. "But people who look at our school would assume it could be a bad school. A town sells itself, but if people have a choice between one or another, a bad school drives people away. We need to bring this facility up to standard."

The board will next meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in the TCHS auditorium.