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It’s no contest; Morgan school needs renovation

An important petition-gathering competition is about to begin for property owners in the North Harrison Community School Corp. It is one that will have a impact on many people in several ways.
The project in question is whether to renovate Morgan Elementary School, the facility located south of Palmyra. Both supporters and objectors to the project will have from Aug. 28 through Sept. 26 to gather as many signatures as possible. The side with the most at the end of the 30 days wins.
I would argue that this should not be viewed as a contest and the only winners ‘ or losers, depending on the outcome ‘ will be the students at Morgan Elementary, those who are there now and those who will attend there in the future.
Morgan Elementary, which has an enrollment of 500-plus students, has not been renovated since 1974. Its classrooms are less than 700 square feet, making it nearly impossible to incorporate computers and Smartboards into the rooms. And enrollment has increased so much that the school is overcrowded; children are being taught in closets and hallways. To help alleviate that problem, a portable was placed on school grounds for this school year, and school officials anticipate having to add additional portables in future years.
The classrooms aren’t the only areas that need attention. The cafeteria, which was added in the late-60s, is designed for about 300 students, which means many students spend more time standing in line to be served rather than sitting to eat their lunch and visit with their friends.
And there are safety and security concerns: school buses and vehicles use the same area for loading and unloading students, creating a dangerous situation, and the office is not located near the main entrance of the school, thus making it possible for people to slip into the building undetected.
The maintenance/custodial staff have done wonders with what’s there, creating a clean learning environment, but it has helped mask the real problem: the school structure is worn out and outdated.
Residents whose children attend or have attended Morgan Elementary have been patient while the schools’ counterpart on the Ramsey campus, North Harrison Elementary, a newer facility to start with, is nearing completion of a renovation project. Those residents believed their turn would come.
Well, it’s time for their turn.
This Blue Ribbon School, as MES was designated in late 2006, deserves to have a makeover. Its students deserve to have the same learning opportunities as their peers at NHES.
I agree that there’s more to a school than bricks and mortar. It takes dedicated teachers and administrators, which can be found at Morgan. Those people deserve a pay raise, if nothing else, a cost of living adjustment, just like all the teachers and administrators in the North Harrison Community School Corp., those in all other school corporations and any other working person, regardless of their job.
But the days of annual pay increases being the norm appear to be over all across America. Let’s not make the decision whether to renovate Morgan Elementary be about the lack of a teacher contract. That is an altogether different matter.
While a renovation project is costly, Dr. Phil Partenheimer, the superintendent for the NHCSC, along with the five-member school board, has pledged that there will not be a tax-rate increase because of the project. Property taxes will be adjusted in other funds to make sure what property owners pay for the school will remain neutral.
Eventually, the building will have to be renovated or totally replaced. Construction costs are only going to increase, which means the project will exceed the estimated $15 million proposed now.
I would hope, that regardless of the cost, the voters in the North Harrison community will do the right thing and approve the renovation project. An overwhelming number of Franklin Township residents did that back in the mid-1990s, when faced with a deteriorating, worn-out Lanesville school building.
While I supported that project then because it was the right thing to do, it didn’t affect my pocketbook. My husband and I moved into the North Harrison school district four years ago and, although we no longer have school-age children, we support this building project.
If you’re a property owner in the NHCSC and are still undecided about which petition to sign, please take the time to talk to your elected school officials, Morgan Elementary principal Lance Richards and other school administrators. The future of the community depends on your informed decision.