AUDIO: Sunman-Dearborn Considering Up To $48M In School Improvements

The school corporation's superintendent says property taxes could lower even if the full amount of building upgrades are approved.

File photo

(St. Leon, Ind.) - Sunman-Dearborn Community School Corporation buildings may be in line for multi-million dollar upgrades, which administrators say could be fully funded without increasing property taxes for debt service.

The school board hired Lancer + Beebe engineers last year to conduct a feasibility study on the condition of the school corporation’s buildings. Superintendent Andrew Jackson says the engineers’ report broke building needs into two categories: “top priority” and “recommended.”

The priority projects are what Jackson says are those to keep schools safe, warm and dry. Those items can include boilers, air conditioners, roofs, windows, mechanicals, safety features, and other such items.

“We have about $800,000 a year to maintain our facilities and that’s what we use to do those types of things. But eventually a roof has to be replaced just like your house. At East Central High School, the roof is about 20-years-old. It’s near the end of life. That roof alone would be about $2.5 million. We would never be able to pay for that out of our year-to-year budget,” explains Jackson.

LISTEN TO EAGLE COUNTRY 99.3'S INTERVIEW WITH SUNMAN-DEARBORN SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT ANDREW JACKSON.

Lancer + Beebe has pegged the cost at replacing just the roofs across the district’s four schools at up to $4.5 million. But a host of other updates may be needed, the study found.

The recommended items identified by Lancer + Beebe are more discretionary, explains Jackson. They include improving learning spaces and making them more flexible and comfortable, replacing flooring, and converting to LED lighting. Another wish list project is new learning space to facilitate STEM education at each elementary school.

“They just don’t have that type of facility,” Jackson says.

So what’s the price tag? Jackson says the range would be between $25 million and $48 million, based on Lancer + Beebe’s latest cost estimated delivered to the board on Thursday, July 11.

The engineers’ estimates for maintenance and renovations range from $17.9 million up to $20.5 million at East Central High School, where the last major addition and renovation project was completed in 2004. The board is weighing whether a replacement of the high school pool is warranted. If limited to a lower-cost renovation of the existing pool and associated facilities, the overall price at ECHS could be reduced by $9 million to $10 million. Future replacement of pumps, exhaust fans, and rooftop units in 2025 could cost up to $1 million.

Engineers had initially recommended either completely replacing Sunman-Dearborn Middle School, built in 1984, at a cost of $25 million or putting $10 million toward renovations. Jackson indicated the school board is avoiding the former option in favor of the latter. The company’s updated presentation put the cost of the top priority and recommended improvements at S-DMS at $9.8 million up to $12 million.

Between $3.5 million and $4.5 million in priority and recommended updates are estimated Sunman Elementary School, built as a high school in 1962 and last expanded and renovated in 2001. Future mechanical replacements in 2025 would cost between $1.6 million and $2.3 million.

North Dearborn Elementary School, the corporation’s newest building constructed in 2001 as an intermediate school but repurposed to host elementary classes in 2015, could receive upgrades estimated between $3.9 million and $5 million. 2025 mechanicals could range between $1.6 million and $2.3 million.  

Bright Elementary School, built in 1993, could also receive its share of improvements, most of them being of top priority. The cost estimates range from $4.8 million up to $5.8 million, with no additional projects to be delayed until 2025.

A fiscal analysis was presented to school board members by George K. Baum & Company investment bankers on Thursday, too. Jackson says the entire project could be funded without raising property taxes in the school district from their current rate - and would even allow the overall rate to decrease.

“The good news is that as debt comes off, this would replace it… The property tax rate will stay consistent and it will actually drop a little bit.  It will be structured in such a way so that it will drop in 2025 so that if there is some additional work that needs to be done, which we have some mechanical system that will be at the end of life in 2025, we’ll have capacity to do that without raising property taxes,” Jackson explains.

The financial scenarios presented by Baum representatives include bonding for a single project of $36 million, another option at $41 million borrowed, and a third bonding option to completely fund all the building upgrades at $47 million.

School building projects over $15 million in Indiana can be taken to the ballot. Citizens opposed to the spending could petition to get the bonding put to a referendum among voters in the school district. According to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, the required number of signatures needed to do that is the lesser of 500 district voters or property owners or five percent of voters residing in the district. The signatures would have to be turned into the county clerk's office within 30 days of the preliminary determination of the bond being published.

Jackson says the public is encouraged to come to meetings, including a school board meeting on Thursday, July 18 at 6:00 p.m.

Public presentations for the proposed building project are scheduled for Monday, August 5 at 7:00 p.m. and on Tuesday, August 6 at 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. Each of the presentations will be held in the East Central High School Performing Arts Center.

Updates and information on the project are being published on the school corporation website at https://www.sunmandearborn.k12.in.us/information/2019-budget-information-artlic.

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