East Allen moves ahead with building program

September 22nd, 2016

By Linda Lipp | Fort Wayne Business Weekly 

Making the entrances of its buildings more secure will be the top priority of the $87.5 million in repairs, renovations and additions on tap for East Allen County Schools.

“The safety of our students is our highest priority,” said Kirby Stahly, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer.

All five of the district’s attendance areas will see building improvements, but an estimated two-thirds of the funds, or about $60 million, will be spent on New Haven projects.

The building program got a jumpstart when no referendum petition, which would have mandated it be put to taxpayers for a vote, was filed within 30 days of the district’s legal notice announcing its plans. Now, instead of having to wait until after a November referendum for a go-ahead, the board is moving forward with the work it planned.

Architects from four local firms are in the process of going through the individual buildings, talking to staff and administrators and reviewing drawings and schematics, Stahly said. They will bring their findings back to the administration and school board for review.

The work is expected to get underway after school ends next spring with renovations that will create secure entrances at Southwick Elementary, Prince Chapman Academy, Paul Harding Junior High, East Allen University, New Haven High School, New Haven Intermediate School, Heritage High School, Leo High School and Woodlan High School. It will be easier to complete those projects while students are off for the summer, Stahly noted.

New Haven High School will be the subject of a number of other projects besides, as it is expanded to handle grades 7 through 12. Classrooms will be added for grades 7-8, academic and athletic facilities will be upgraded and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems will be replaced.

A new New Haven Intermediate School for grades 3-6 will be build, and a career center will be created at the old intermediate school. The Park Hill Learning Center, the old middle school and the 64 building will be demolished.

In the Harding attendance area, four classrooms will be added at Southwick and the East Allen University tiered classrooms will be remodeled. A new practice field, outbuildings and accessible restrooms for outdoor activities are among the projects slated for the Heritage attendance area. In Leo, the elementary school will get a new gym and stage and the cafeteria will be expanded; and four classrooms will be added at Cedarville Elementary. A new outbuilding will be built at Woodlan High to house locker rooms and a storage area, and the greenhouse will be renovated and improved.

Staging will be key to getting the work done most efficiently and cost effectively.

“We don’t want to compete against ourselves when we’re out bidding projects, and we want to get done as soon as possible and (follow) what our priorities are,” Stahly said. “It makes it more difficult for contractors to bid.”

The work also will be scheduled in a way that minimizes the disruption for students. Additions to schools, for example, can be done while school is in session with relatively few problems. And then students could be moved into new areas while contractors go back into the older parts of the building to make repairs and renovations.

Projects that are part of the building program should be completed within about two years, or the summer of 2019, Stahly estimated.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for our students and community. It’s trying to update buildings that we’ve not been able to update, and taking care of areas with overcrowding,” he said.

The bonds the school district will issue to finance the work will be repaid by a tax increase of about 9.3 cents per hundred dollars of assessed valuation, at the maximum, bringing the total rate to about 97 cents per hundred.

The hike will only affect taxpayers who are below the state-mandated tax caps. Those at the cap already will see no increase.