School board gets construction suggestions

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Members: Time for community to speak up

TELL CITY - Ten of the 12 members of two building committees who voted during a Sept. 4 meeting at Tell City High School preferred one option for improving the building, but weren't sure they could get enough community support to spend the $16.1 million it would cost.

Now Tell City-Troy Township School Board members are considering the same dilemma.

Turnout was light when the committees met one week ago in the high school's library, but discussion was pointed.

"The vast majority of people I talked to said their resistance to adding on to this building was because it was already oversized," said Joe Carroll of those he contacted in helping to lead a remonstrance that shut down a $16.5 million project launched with discussions in 2006. "In my personal opinion, the least real estate or building that you add to this, the easier it's going to be to sell."

Carroll feels space now going unused in the high school should be employed before any plans are considered to tear down or add to the building. The $16.1 million plan would add 70,935 square feet to the existing structure.

That option, identified as Plan E, won overwhelming support in a secret vote by the committee members, who had discarded three of the six for renovating the high school to accommodate junior-high students. The plan's addition of nearly 71,000 square feet would be offset by the closure of the junior high, which would eliminate about 86,000 square feet.

That closure was determined at the previous meeting of the committees to be necessary to cut the costs that would continue to be necessary in maintaining, heating and cooling it.

Other plans included various alternatives for adding rooms or changing the uses of existing spaces. Plan A, for example, would have high-school shop areas renovated into seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms at a projected cost of $14.1 million. The current library would become administrative offices and a new library would be constructed in the area now known as the "glass hallway." Like all of the plans the group retained, it would add a new gym.

Plans B, D and F were ruled out because they didn't include a new gym, which members felt is necessary to accommodate the increased number of students.

Plan C would convert the 1928 portion of the building into junior-high classrooms and cost approximately $9.8 million. It originally didn't include a new gym, but was retained after members learned it could be added for an additional $2 million.

A basement room would be renovated for art classes, the current driver-education area would become classrooms and six to eight classrooms would be added in the courtyard area under this plan.

Plan E, the $16.1 million option, was provided as a drawing depicting a new layout for the newer, one-story part of the building.

"One of the things that came out loud and strong in past meetings," Etienne said, was any new (construction) should preserve 'the flats.' This plan does that and would preserve the Bryan Taylor Arena. It would renovate classrooms so high-school rooms are in the 1979-80 addition, and it would preserve the pool. Everything else would be new."

A concern has been expressed throughout the planning that junior-high and high-school students be separated, and Etienne said Plan E would have them mixing only if junior-high students take industrial-technology classes, which they don't now.

The superintendent said Plan E "plans for the future and you've got a building that should be good for 30 or 40 years."

Another suggestion, to build a new, 139,000-square-foot junior-senior-high building for as much as $29 million, received little attention during the meeting.

All of the costs are for construction alone. Etienne said 17 percent should be added for "soft costs," such as those charged by an architect. If land must be purchased for a new building, that cost must be added, as well, but the superintendent said land at the existing high-school site could be used.

Discussions are under way about moving some shop classes to Ivy Tech, which would free up more space in the high school, Principal Dale Stewart noted during the committees' meeting.

If a school corporation proposes a costly construction project, a 100-voter petition can send the issue to a referendum under legislation included in House Enrolled Act 1001, adopted in March. For that reason and because the remonstrance halted the previous plans, Etienne is moving carefully through a new process of determining building needs and the means to address them.

Both of the committees are composed of parents, other community representatives and school-corporation staffers.

School-board members discussed the committees' recommendations at a regular meeting Tuesday. Before that conversation, Stewart told them about an Outreach To Teach Program, whose leaders have selected TCHS as their next project. The group will assemble 30 to 40 work groups of volunteers from this community and elsewhere April 18 to perform landscaping, painting and repairs in and around the high school. Stewart showed pictures of peeling paint and other problems and said "we can make it a day of pride by getting a lot of community people here to help."

"The cost to the school corporation is next to nothing," Etienne said. "They've done this in several communities, and it's amazing what they can get done in a day."

Board members said they appreciate the opportunity, but said the need for the group's help indicated a problem.

"As much as I'm excited about the group coming in," board member Larry Bryant said, "I'm ashamed that we need it."

He also said some people who visited during Schweizer Fest commented that the school looks just as it did 50 years ago.

"That's sad," Bryant said.

Board member Dr. Gene Ress noted that he and his peers could easily "say we're lame ducks," and simply avoid the high school's renovation needs, "but this community deserves better, and it's time for the community to grab hold of the situation. It would be wrong for the community not to get involved."

"I'd like to get one-on-one input from any member of the community," board member Tom Holm said. Before the last construction project's defeat, "the board begged for comments," he noted, "then we were accused of being ambivalent. My name's in the phone book, and I'm sure any board member would welcome comments."

Etienne said during the Sept 4 meeting a best-case scenario would have work done in the fall of 2010, "but it'll more likely be the fall of 2011."