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The new option of NHES: keep the gym and cafeteria

A third possible option for the aging North Harrison Elementary School was brought to light Monday night during a special session of the school board of trustees.
Instead of exploring two basic options ‘ remodel what’s there, or completely demolish and rebuild ‘ Gary Byrne suggested keeping the gym and cafeteria, which appear to be in good shape, and build new classrooms.
The five-member school board was seeking input from the public, again, on the school that needs to replace its heating and air conditioning system and renovate its outdated pod-style classrooms.
Besides replacing the HVAC and erecting classroom walls, the minimum plan would include adding seats to the gym, so the entire student body could be seated at one time, and additional classrooms and a computer lab. The dirt would be removed from atop the in-ground building and the roof would be replaced with a more traditional one.
‘I like the idea’ of salvaging part of the school, said school trustee Kathy Goldman. ‘I want a dollar figure behind it.’
Monty Schneider, superintendent of the North Harrison Community School Corp., said estimates could be put together quickly for the board’s consideration.
Jerry Firestone, director of educational planning for RQAW Consulting Engineers and Architects, had given estimates for two extremes back at a public hearing in August. A minimum plan would cost about $9 million; replacing the entire structure has a $16 million price tag, roughly, although that does not include the cost of demolition or additional land that may be needed.
With the $9 million project, Schneider predicted property taxes would increase about $100 per year on property assessed at $100,000.
‘The five of us are not going to pay for this ourselves,’ said school trustee Ron Coleman.
Public sentiment ranged from a few people suggesting that the school board do nothing to several who asked that the school be rebuilt.
‘I’ve been informed that you have less students than three years ago, so why do anything?’ asked Alvin Brown, a taxpayer from Palmyra who is also a Harrison County Councilman.
‘Let’s build a new building, draw people into the community, and regain their trust,’ said Kelly Churchill, who lives outside of Depauw and began her teaching career at NHES the first year it opened as a modern, state-of-the-art school.
Many who prefer the start-from-scratch option worry that the renovation plan won’t solve the mold problem in the building, and that the school trustees will have to come back in a few years and raise taxes again so they can rebuild the school.
Three of the four township trustees in the North Harrison school district attended Monday night’s meeting. They also were in disagreement as to what to do.
Fred Uhl, from Morgan Township, got his first look at the school before the meeting when Churchill took him on a tour.
‘You have a heck of a group of teachers if they can teach in this kind of environment,’ Uhl told the school trustees, adding that he thought it was best if they start over with a new building.
Jackson Township Trustee Joe Martin opted to salvage ‘as much of this facility’ as possible. Constituents have expressed concerns to him about increased property taxes.
Michael Beyerle, the Blue River Township trustee, said he’s ‘a product of this elementary school,’ has children who attend school there, and has two more children yet to start school.
‘I don’t have a problem with them being here,’ he said, ‘but maybe they don’t have allergy problems’ like some students and staff.
‘It’s not a good time to be spending that kind of money,’ Beyerle said.
The school trustees said they appreciated the public taking the time to attend Monday night’s meeting and express their opinion.
‘We’re going to make a decision in the next few weeks,’ said Bobby Chinn. ‘Thirty percent of you will think what we do is right; 30 percent will think we’re wrong; 30 percent won’t be sure; and the other 10 percent will want to kick us out of here.’
He said he realizes there are ‘a lot of people in this community who don’t have the money’ for a building project.
Board president Fred Naegele closed the meeting by defending the board that decided to build the school. ‘They thought it was a good decision at the time’ to be covered with dirt. Killer tornadoes had passed through the area a few years earlier, and the open-concept classrooms was the hot trend at the time.
‘Times have changed,’ he said. ‘We’ve dragged our feet too long … We need to move with it and not wait any longer.’

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