NH looks to renovate middle school
The North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees is considering a project that would renovate the aging middle school. And Supt. D. John Thomas said it can be done without increasing taxes.
‘It’s a safety issue,’ Thomas said of the structure that was built in 1954 as the high school.
He cited mold issues, asbestos and problems with the roof.
‘Since the four years I’ve been here, there’s been water-line problems with maintenance costing several thousand dollars a year,’ Thomas said.
In 1956, a gymnasium was added to the building, and, in 1971 and again in 1987, the library was expanded. When the new high school was built in the early 1990s just to the east, the building became the middle school.
And while the building is ADA compliant, Thomas said it can be difficult to get those with handicaps inside the building.
According to a facility study done about two years ago by Performance Services, the entire building uses two water boilers that are now 45 years old and are in ‘below average’ condition, as are the original water pumps.
A second boiler room constructed during the 1971 addition has boilers and water pumps that also are in ‘below average’ condition.
And Performance Services said the existing outdoor air-cooled reciprocating chiller, now 24 years old, is in poor condition and has a capacity to cool about 58,000 square feet, a little more than half of the building’s approximate 113,420 square feet.
That’s just some of the findings from the study.
‘The whole building needs to be rewired,’ Thomas said. ‘The pipes in the tunnels are leaking. … It’s very dangerous for people who are working there.’
Students are not allowed access to the tunnel areas, only maintenance workers, the superintendent said.
However, the students and staff suffer from the poor heating and cooling systems.
‘The heating system is so bad … they’ve had to wear coats,’ Thomas said. ‘You can’t learn when you’re cold.’
Since receiving the report from Performance Services in December 2013, Thomas said he has been trying to find a way to replace the aging structure that has 516 students in grades 6 through 8 without increasing the corporation’s tax rate.
He finally has found a solution and will make a presentation at a special board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22. The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the high school auditeria. Thomas said if the crowd is too large for that room, the meeting will be moved to the gymnasium.
In addition to a PowerPoint presentation by Thomas, Lance Richards, the school corporation’s assistant superintendent, will give an assessment of the condition of the middle school. Kovert Hawkins and Shireman Construction, firms that handled the renovation of North Harrison and Morgan elementary schools, will talk about the cost estimates of the project.
Damain Maggos with George K. Baum & Co. will speak about the refinancing and refunding of the debt service of North Harrison Elementary School that would allow the middle school project to occur without an increase in taxes.
The debt service of NHES can be refinanced now that it has been on the books for 10 years.
Thomas said the NHES project was financed with nearly a 5-percent interest rate.
‘Bonds are half that now,’ he said.
By refinancing, the school corporation can combine the $10 million, which would be used for the middle school project, with the refinanced amount remaining on NHES. And because it’s not more than $10 million, the school corporation would not be required to have a referendum, an opportunity for taxpayers in the district to vote on the project. The savings on the refinance of NHES is $879,432.
Thomas also plans to have $2 million set aside for ‘soft’ costs.
The tax rate will remain at the 2014 rate of 77 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
‘Should our assessed valuation remain at the level it is for pay 2015, then the rate in subsequent years should remain in the 60-cent range,’ Thomas said.
The assessed value in the school district recently increased from $439 million to $465 million.
‘I’m especially thankful to (Harrison County) Commissioner George Ethridge and the county council,’ Thomas said.
‘We don’t get enough Capital Projects money to do all these repairs,’ he said. ‘And I can’t take it out of the General Fund or we can’t pay other expenses and provide needed supplies.’
Thomas said the renovation plan he is interested in would call for a new, two-story wing to be constructed on the east side of the middle school building. Once those classrooms are ready for students, the current wing of classrooms, on the west side of the building, would be demolished. That area would become a parking lot. The project calls for 28 new classrooms, the same number that would be demolished.
Also to be included would be the installation of natural gas boilers. Thomas said that would allow an additional savings in energy costs.
Renovation of the cafeteria, including updating windows and doors, also would be done.
New appliances in the cafeteria would be paid for from the food services fund, which has a balance of $800,000.
That hefty balance, Thomas said, led to the state’s decision not to reimburse the school corporation for meals.
‘They said it needs to be reduced by $300,000,’ he said.
If approved by the school board, which is expected to vote on the project during its regular meeting in February, construction wouldn’t begin for about a year. The projected completion date would be prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year.
‘If the public doesn’t want it, they have a right to a remonstrance,’ Thomas said. ‘We’ll just see where it goes.’