SD School Board Discusses Facility Improvements Amid Enrollment Issues

No action was taken Wednesday night, but school board members have discussed improvements to the high school auditorium, swimming pool, gym balcony and football field.

(Aurora, Ind.) - Discussions were had but no decisions have been made on how to improve facilities and enrollment at South Dearborn Schools. 

The South Dearborn Community Schools Board of Trustees held a three-hour work session Wednesday evening to discuss potential improvements to South Dearborn High School. 

The discussions come in the wake of dwindling enrollment at South Dearborn schools. While some schools may have to close their doors, millions of dollars could be invested into the high school that hasn't seen much renovation since it was built in 1977. 

Among the topic points was the replacement of nearly 20-year-old HVAC systems at five of the six schools within the district. There was no recommendation for Moores Hill Elementary, which has a newer HVAC system. Cincinnnati-based Comfort Systems estimated the cost to install new UNC main controllers and chillers to be between $1.5 to $2 million.

Representatives from Comfort Systems explained to the board and the public that the current HVAC systems have surpassed their life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. The same equipment uses R-22 refrigerant, which will no longer be manufactured as of December 2020. In addition, the main processors of the units are no longer manufactured, which would make it tough to maintain comfortable temperatures if and when a particular unit fails. 

The school board also discussed the possibility of a multi-use turf playing field and improvements to the high school pool, gym balcony, and auditorium.

"I've been on the board a couple years," said Scott Willoughby. "I'm not exactly sure why our past boards didn't invest in some of these things. I'm sure they faced challenges similar to what we face. However, I'm confident that this board is going to make the right decisions and in a timely manner. I don't want to be remembered as a board that didn't take care of the problems that our school has, that our district has." 

The idea of replacing the current grass football field with a multi-use turf surface was pitched once again. At least three board members said they were in favor of the new playing surface that would be used for football, boys and girls soccer, band, cheerleading and more. The board also expressed interest in upgrading concession stands, restrooms and locker rooms at the football field. 

ADA compliance issues were also discussed due to handicap persons having difficulty accessing the football field and bleachers. 

Another outdoor upgrade that was consider is adding a new access road to the baseball and softball fields, which would keep student-athletes from using State Road 350 to get to practices. Cost of a new access road was estimated at $100,000. 

Moving indoors, the board talked at length about swimming pool upgrades. In its current form, the high school swimming pool is not up to IHSAA standards, which prevents the school from hosting statewide events, such as sectionals. However, the board didn't seem too interested in making the changes needed to reach those standards considering it would cost millions of dollars to go from a six lane pool to an eight lane pool. Instead, the board would like to see other improvements like securing the foundation, new paint, lining and re-tiling the perimeter of the pool. 

The board was also split on whether or not the pool should be used for curriculum by teaching young students how to swim. Board member Josh Holland suggested repurposing the area for other usage, if it won't be used during the school day for curricular activities. 

The 42-year-old auditorium is also in need of repair. The board didn't elaborate much on what needed to be done, but agreed that the area needed to be fixed up. 

Finally, upgrades to the gymnasium balcony were discussed. Among the options are replacing the bleachers and flooring on the upper levels. By doing so, athletic teams and other extracurricular programs could better use the additional space in the gym. 

The three-hour session ended without a vote on any improvements. However, a discussion was had to vote on approval of a $5 million bonding solution at an upcoming meeting.

 

Public weighs in on problems facing the school district

In addition to the work session, nearly ten concerned citizens got up to speak during the public weigh-in portion of the meeting. 

Doug Rump, Town Manager of Dillsboro, spoke first about how combining jobs could potentially save the school district money.  

"Do more for less," said Rump. " Its going to be hard to go out and ask the taxpayers to pay more money when you don't show the effort to go out and do that on your end. I'm really disappointed we aren't finishing the discussion on the closures. I think we are missing the boat here. We've kicked this can down the road enough." 

Parent Chris Daugherty says the facility upgrades and enrollment go hand-in-hand. 

"If you don't address both these issues simultaneously , just doing one or the other is not going to get us there," he said. "If we don't shine this school up, you're not going to draw kids. We have to compete with Lawrenceburg, we have to compete with East Central. Its just the way it is. If somebody's taxes went up eight bucks, how many people would even notice it?"

Parent Brandon Messmore said upgrading the facilities gives the kids a better environment to work in. 

"It kills me that we started this it feels like forever ago," said Messmore. "From 2012 to 2019, we're talking about enrollment still." 

Mrs. Finnegan, a teacher of 36 years said the school district needs to improve its academics. 

"It's not just the facilities, its because of the programs that we have, the teachers that we have. We have to improve the programs we have."

Sarah Powell, a South Dearborn Middle School employee, said the school district should in no way consider closing the middle school over other schools in the district. 

"We consolidated in 1998. We brought the kids together in seventh and eighth grade. If we would take them away now and send them back to the elementary schools, then we've went two steps forward and about 25 steps back. These kids need a middle school. 

RELATED STORIES:

School Board Work Session Becomes Larger Discussion On South Dearborn's Future

Taxpayers' Efforts Successfully Stop SDHS Improvements, For Now

LETTER: City Of Aurora Seeks Transparency In South Dearborn HS Building Project

South Dearborn Board Won't Close School... Yet

Passionate Moores Hill Residents Come Out To Fight Possible School Closure

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