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Morgan Elementary project may be delayed … again

Proponents of a renovation project for Morgan Elementary School in the North Harrison Community School Corp. succeeded in gathering more support to proceed with updating the old former high school building than project opponents, but now the uncertain economy could deliver another delay.
‘I don’t know if we can get anybody to buy bonds’ for the project, said Dr. Phil Partenheimer, superintendent at NHCSC at least through the end of the year.
Partenheimer intends to submit his resignation to the school board as soon as he signs a contract with the Wilson Education Service Center. The board of the Center’s Region 2, located in Charlestown, voted last Wednesday night to hire Partenheimer to succeed Larry Risk, the current executive director who is retiring.
‘It’s good we won the remonstrance,’ Partenheimer said. ‘It’s bad because of the economy.’
The remonstrance lasted 30 days, from Aug. 28 through Sept. 26, during which time project supporters and objectors were in a race to gather as many signatures of property owners in the school district for their cause. The side with the most valid signatures would be declared the winner.
Greg Rupp, a teacher in the school corporation and president of the North Harrison Classroom Teachers Association, initially was leading the rally against the project.
‘Truth be known, it was to object to the planning process and the way the project was hastily put together to escape the new regulations that went into effect July 1,’ Rupp said. ‘No one, especially me, thought that Morgan did not need to be remodeled.’
He contends the elementary school in Morgan Township, which was built in the 1950s and has not been renovated since 1974, should have taken precedence over North Harrison Elementary School. That facility, built in the early 1980s, is nearing completion of a major remodeling project.
‘The reason I advocated the (NHES) project was because of health and environmental reasons,’ Rupp said. ‘There are teachers and students at (MES) who attended North Harrison and were sick at (NHES) ’til they moved to Morgan … Never was it mentioned that Morgan had health and environmental issues as have surfaced recently as reasons to remodel the building.’
Rupp and some teachers who spoke against the project have been accused of using the delay as a way to get the school board to settle a teacher contract dispute, which is now entering its fifth year.
‘While some feel that teachers make too much and a raise is not needed, consider that we are the only (school) corporation in the state that has not receive a raise in five years,’ Rupp said.
But before the 30-day period ended, opponents had stopped gathering signatures. All the Harrison County Circuit Clerk office received by the deadline was 132 pages of signatures of people in support of the project.
The delay of the remonstrance and the 30-day ‘cooling off’ period required by the state prior to that has been a ‘waste,’ Partenheimer said, allowing construction costs to increase.
Partenheimer, who started in July 2007 as superintendent at NHCSC after leaving the same post at Lanesville Community School Corp., said he was ‘thankful’ that North Harrison hired him last year. ‘It’s a fine community that supports education,’ he said.
He is slated to assume his new position in February.
The next step toward getting Morgan Elementary renovated, Partenheimer said, is for the school board to meet with the state property tax control board.
‘All this fiasco did was hurt the kids and divide the community,’ he said, adding that MES Principal Lance Richards and the students ‘deserve a school environment that’s better than the one they’re in today.’