The proposed building and renovation plan for the Clay Community School Corporation is a hot topic around town. Opinions are strong, and vary widely.
Does the school really need to repair and renovate these buildings?
Clay Community School's Building and Grounds Director Tom Reberger says the answer to this question is yes.
"The needs are real, and many are immediate," Reberger said, citing several reasons why the school corporation needs to make repairs and additions to two local elementary schools, Meridian and East Side.
"Both schools have some similar needs," Reberger said. "Starting at the top, they both need new roofs. The current roofs are more than 20-years-old, and the sheer age of them makes it hard to maintain."
With the amount of wind and hail this area gets, not to mention the tornado/wind sheer event that roared through town, weather has only accelerated the aging effects on these two roofs.
"We have reached a point where maintenance is a real issue here," Reberger said.
Issues at East Side are numerous, and many mirror what Meridian experiences.
"We just don't have enough space in either school," Reberger said. "Typically, we should have 150 square feet per student of space, and East Side has 111 square feet, with Meridian faring a little better with 120 square feet per student."
East Side has a very small cafeteria, and a small gymnasium.
"They have no choice but to stagger lunch times at East Side. There just isn't room for more than two, maybe three classes in there at once," Reberger said. "We have discussed the idea of building a separate new lunchroom, and converting the old one into two rooms used for art and music. This is what was done at Jackson Township, and that worked very well."
A small cafeteria means that many of these students who eat breakfast at the school at 8 a.m. end up having lunch at 11 a.m.
Currently at East Side, art and music classes move from room to room. Art is called "Art on a cart" because they have to wheel it from room to room, and at one point art was sharing space with the computer lab.
"That kind of chaos just isn't conducive to learning," Reberger said.
East Side is also far from being handicapped accessible.
"Not even close," Reberger said. "We have an individual bathroom that is handicapped ready, but we've had to rebuild that, and we can't do that with the public restrooms. We just can't work it out with the space restrictions. We did the best with what we had, with the space we had."
According to Reberger, doing the best with what they have is the schools new mantra. The electrical work, plumbing work and more space for the students enrolled is not just a want, but a need.
Meridian faces many of the same challenges as East Side, but with some differences.
Their roof is also more than 20-years-old, and the building is also not handicapped accessible.
"They have some other issues at Meridian," Reberger said. "There is no public restroom on the bottom floor. That is where the cafeteria is, and there is no place to wash up after coming in from recess."
Reberger says that the cafeteria is bigger at Meridian, but they would still like to build a new larger one.
"We also have the issue of the bus unloading zone," Reberger said. "Currently, the busses unload on Compton Street, a city street. It isn't at grade. Students must climb stairs to get into the school. Obviously not handicapped accessible."
The whole school is set up in a way that is inhospitable to a handicapped student, or teacher.
To get to the gymnasium, library, cafeteria or the playground, students must use the stairs.
The kindergarten classroom is on the other side of the gymnasium, which involves either walking outside or through the gym to get to lunch, recess or the library.
Meridian needs a three-stop elevator, according to Reberger, and there is virtually no storage in these schools.
"We've had to cut out the storage areas to make classrooms," Reberger said. "Speech, and other departments have needed space, so storage had to go."
Space is and has been a big issue. That is why there are modular buildings on the property.
"The modular buildings concern me the most," Reberger said. "They are inefficient, it isn't fair to separate the children from being in the same environment as the others, they have to walk outside in the weather to access them which presents some safety concerns, and they are just too old."
These modular classrooms are more than 20-years-old, and not meant to be used for this long a period.
At Meridian, the computer lab is in one, as is art. Anyone wanting to use the computer lab must exit the main building. This includes the children when they do their NWEA testing.
Tom Reberger has worked for this school corporation for many years, and it was his initial inspection of these schools that sparked the mission to renovate or build additions that these schools need. He had a second opinion from Schmidt and Associates who did their own inspection, and they compared the two.
"What many people don't understand is that these schools didn't get what they wanted, they are getting what they need with a couple of wants," Reberger said. "These are important repairs that need to be made to make us able to continue to educate our children in comfort and compete in educational excellence."
The school board will be having a special session to discuss the building renovation plans on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the media center at North Clay Middle School. The public is encouraged to attend.