Lawrenceburg High School
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - Lawrenceburg Community Schools would like to avoid a referendum when it comes to funding a new high school gym and possibly an academic wing.
Superintendent Karl Galey met with Lawrenceburg City Council again Wednesday to lobby funding for a gym replacement project. The cost of a new gym is estimated at $15 million and the project could grow to $42 million if a new academic wing is included.
Analyses have found the current gym’s foundation is shifting and could cause the facility to become unsafe. Wes Merkle with American Structurepoint, the engineering firm hired by the school district, said the most recent assessment of the foundation done in November indicated there has been more movement, mostly in the gym walls.
Time is of the essence. The high school gym could become so unstable in the next few years that it be must be shuttered.
“My greatest concern is the safety of the children. If anything should happen where that gym collapses, it’s on all of us. We have to protect our children not only from mass shootings, but from structures falling in on them,” Lawrenceburg councilwoman Jane Pope said.
Lawrenceburg Mayor Dennis Carr asked why the school board was not willing to take the issue to voters in a referendum. Indiana law requires most school building projects over $12 million to first earn approval from taxpayers.
Galey said other school projects in Indiana that have gone to the ballot have failed 66 percent of the time. He referenced a $28 million referendum for Batesville Community Schools that was soundly defeated by voters there in 2009.
“I think the taxpayers should have a say whether to build this or not,” said Carr.
The school district has about $3 million from its capital projects and rainy day funds to put towards the projects, Galey said. An application for a grant from Hollywood Casino owner Penn National Gaming is being prepared, too.
Nobody questioned the need for the new gym which would be comparable in size to the current facility. However, there were lots of concerns about the estimated costs and where the funding may come from.
“I think we’re all in favor of doing what we can do,” said Greendale Mayor Doug Hedrick, adding that he may be willing to see his city contribute a year’s worth of riverboat revenue to the project.
Hedrick suggested Galey and the school board first attempt to get the referendum passed. If it were to fail, then other funding avenues could be explored.
Greendale City Councilman Bob Bischoff, a former state representative, said the timing on a referendum could be an issue. Indiana has no elections in 2013. Unless taxpayers fund a special local election in 2013, the next opportunity to put the referendum on the ballot would be the May primary in 2014.
Galey warned that delaying the project that long could put the school in a bad position if the gym were to become unusable enough to force a closure.
Council members asked if the school district could seek a second opinion on the cost estimates of a new gym. Councilman Mike Lawrence pointed to a large school project just a few miles east on U.S. 50 where the Three Rivers Local School District is building an entire K-12 campus for $63 million.
“It just seems like a lot of money for a gymnasium,” he said.
Lawrence was curious if there was a way to fix the current foundation. Merkle said making the necessary repairs would require stripping down the gym to the steel and building everything else back.
Carr and Bischoff asked that a committee be formed to review the funding options. It will include two representatives from each party involved: Lawrenceburg, Greendale, Dearborn County, the Lawrenceburg Conservancy District, and the school district. The committee will report back to the council on its findings.
“We can whip this dog. We just have to sit down and find a way to do it,” Hedrick said near the end of the meeting.
No funding decisions were made.