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Facilities committee presents findings

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Consultants employed to develop Tell City schools master plan

TELL CITY - They identified some needs that should be dealt with immediately, but a facilities-study committee's biggest recommendation was that a master plan be developed to ensure buildings in the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp. receive the funding and care they need in the future.

A special meeting of the corporation's school board was canceled twice due to bad weather, but was finally convened Friday. It followed a last-minute meeting in which committee members did a quick run-through of the presentation they'd prepared for the school board.

Convening for the first time in October, committee members were given a mission to identify problems in the city's junior-high and high schools, then asked to make visits individually to see for themselves where repairs and other renovation needs exist.

The study was launched after efforts by the school board to initiate a $16.5 million renovation project early last year for the two upper-grades buildings were thwarted by a remonstrance. Other projects funded by interest-free qualified zone academy bonds brought relatively minor improvements since then, but work described in the plan for major renovations was prohibited by law until this April. On the heels of the project's shutdown, the board opted to try again, this time through a broad-based community group.

A master plan must be developed, and must include an examination of future uses of the corporation's buildings, the committee reported.

Its 21 members representing parents, teachers and other community members "took an exhaustive look" at the facilities and assembled 88 pages of data, Chad Long told the board. He and Dr. Al Long of Power Consulting of Indianapolis facilitated the study.

Achieving consensus among that many committee members can be difficult, Chad Long said, but they "were honest and open with their questions and concerns." They boiled 150 pages of findings down to list needs in priority order.

Committee member Jon Scheer commended the board "for realizing the community has a lot of very bright people," and for tapping that resource in assembling the committee.

Some of the committee's discussions were "very pointed," he said. "We had no money caps; we let everyone on the committee ask 'where do we need to be?' In our second meeting, we saw all of the needs, and our focus shifted. We asked ourselves, 'what do we believe?' "

Among the answers, he said, were the beliefs "our children deserve better" and "safety should be a priority."

Committee member Gene Borders agreed discussion was "pretty heated at times," but said that was good because it was honest conversation.

Questions like whether the junior-high school can continue to serve educational needs must be answered in developing the master plan before other questions can be answered, he noted. "We know we need to fix the kitchen and dining area, but we don't know how many kids we'll need to feed."

The multi-level high school is a problem for wheelchair users, generating suggestions the newer, single-story portion of it be used for classrooms. The 1928 portion of the building might be reserved for administrative offices and, perhaps, community meeting rooms.

"We have to decide things like what we'll use the building for," Borders said. "With the community involved in the decision-making, we can get moving forward."

Beth Bruggeman reported the committee's findings for the junior-high building. A very high priority, she said, is "the kitchen needs to be totally updated."

Among problems there are equipment that doesn't work, inadequate space and a collapsing ceiling. Security is also a high priority for the building she said, and bathrooms and fountains don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Broken windows allow snow to enter, making it hard for students to concentrate on learning, the roof leaks, office space is poorly used and the gym floor needs to be replaced, she added.

Committee member Joe Clayton provided a wrap-up for the board.

"The facilities need improvement; everybody understands that," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done. We need to carefully examine our options for the 1928 portion of the building. A lot of people agreed they'd like to see all of the administrative offices, including the superintendent's and guidance offices, moved into that area."

"The possibility of school consolidation is being talked about more and more," he continued, referring to a recommendation from an Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform reported in the Jan. 7 Perry County News. "It's difficult to say if the junior high will be too small or too big for our needs. There has been talk of moving junior-high students to the high school, and there's been a lot of resistance to that."

The bottom line, Clayton said, is "we want safe, comfortable buildings for students to learn in, and we realize schools are the biggest tax expense."

Very important is "getting a good preventive-maintenance program going," he continued, which would save a lot of money over the reactive process currently in use.

In response to a question from board member Larry Bryant, Scheer said financial aspects of making the repairs will need to be addressed in the master plan.

"This has been a continual thorn in our side," Bryant said, "how to get our hands around the maintenance problem."

The way Indiana schools are funded "and the mandates we have to deal with wouldn't work in private business," he said. "As a taxpayer, it frustrates me."

"Schools are run kind of screwy in this state," Etienne agreed. "You can build new buildings every few years, but the state keeps cutting the operating funds that would pay for maintenance."

Board member Tom Holm asked whether the committee looked at a capital-projects study prepared for the work stopped by the remonstrance.

"There were no dollar figures put with anything," Schools Superintendent Ron Etienne replied. "Their charge was to point out what needed to be done. It's the board's and my job to figure out how to pay for it."

On his recommendation, the corporation will employ for $8,000 Jackson-Amick Resources Inc. of Paoli to develop a master plan that will determine, for example, whether the corporation will continue to maintain two or three buildings.

Holm voted against hiring the firm, saying later, "I think we ought to see what we can do first."

Etienne disagreed with some of the committee's priorities, saying a need to move art and special-education classes out of basement classrooms are more important than fixing windows.

"But you're right," he told the committee representatives, "this must be this community's plan, one this community will buy into."

Board member Dr. Gene Ress said if the committee loses its interest and excitement now that they've presented their findings, "you'll do a disservice to your community. Talk to people," he urged. "Continue your interest and excitement about what can happen."

Committee member Jeff Miller said after the meeting he was approached by people who complained the committee was making decisions.

He had to continually explain it was only identifying problems.

"People who complain could have come to the public committee meetings," board member Debbie Reed said. "It's time for people to stand up. If you don't take advantage of the opportunity, don't say anything. Pressure needs to be put on the community to participate."