The fate of the Clay Community Schools renovation project was decided Monday, although it took a lot of discussion, at the 1028 preliminary determination hearing meeting at North Clay Middle School.
The school board voted unanimously to move forward with the renovation project.
Twenty-two taxpayers, corporation employees and parents told the board their opinions and concerns about the project after hearing an abbreviated presentation from Tom Neff, Schmidt Associates, and Damien Maggos, City Financial.
Forest Buell began the public comment portion of the evening by requesting the board delay the project until a second proposal, which would include moving sixth-grade back to the elementary schools, was available for the public's consideration.
He was followed by Jennifer Swaim, the Title 1 Coordinator for Meridian Elementary School, who teaches in one of the modular classrooms outside of the school.
Swaim described the conditions she and art teacher, Leslie Cordray, deal with in the modulars. She told the board she and Cordray were very much in favor of the renovation project.
Six elementary school principals followed Swaim. Jeff Fritz, from Jackson Township, explained to the board how the improvements his school received in 2002 helped the educational process and minimized safety concerns.
"We are very fortunate at Jackson Township, and I hope the other elementaries have the same opportunity," Fritz said.
Principals Karen Phillips (Meridian), Gail Williams (Van Buren) and Mary Ray (East Side) were brief in their comments, supporting the project and agreeing with the previous supporters.
Staunton Elementary Principal Cheryl Jordan said the renovations would make a "significant impact" in the safety, security and learning environment for her students.
Currently, students must cross a parking lot to and from a metal building for music class, lunch, breakfast and other weekly classes.
Clay City Elementary Principal Jon Russell spoke for the need of a security vestibule, as did the school secretary Kay Smith.
Russell also explained to the audience that carpet replacement is an indicator of investment to visitors and students.
"If you walk into a bank and it doesn't look good, you're probably not going to invest with them," Russell said. "We're investing in our children, and it's an aesthetic thing but it shows pride."
Continuing on the investment theme, Transportation Director Frank Misner explained his support succinctly, "If a community isn't willing to invest in itself, then it shouldn't be surprised when others are not willing to invest in it."
Meridian Elementary fifth-grade teacher Amy Hardey was a Clay Community Schools student, and is a mother of students in the corporation. She described how difficult it is for her to work with her entire class at one time in the limited space she has.
After the stream of supporters, school board candidate Leo Southworth approached the board with several of his concerns with the project.
Southworth said the number of students in a classroom is more important to education than the square footage of that classroom.
He also asked why some schools were being re-carpeted when asthma is a large problem in schools. Southworth cited research recommending carpeting be removed in schools to reduce asthma issues.
"I cannot support the plan until it is based in fact, is cost effective and education oriented," Southworth said.
Holly Neal, who followed Southworth, has two daughters in the corporation, and said, "I'm not in favor of increasing spending but I can't think of one thing that is more important to spend on than children. Safety is not a privilege -- it's a right."
Todd Pierce continued by saying he was pleased to see Fritz and secretary Georgette English when he walks into Jackson Township, where his daughter attends.
Pierce said his daughter loves her surroundings, and "it would be a great disservice if we didn't do the same in the other elementary schools."
Michelle Kibbe, the secretary at Meridian, said the safety configuration at Jackson Township would provide her more safety at work.
"We cannot tell who is in the building unless we go running after them down the hallway," Kibbe said.
Director of Buildings and Grounds Tom Reberger said the project was not hastily put together, and the needs being addressed are only some of what corporation facilities lack.
He added the short term bonds will get the elementary schools in the proper condition, which will free up additional funds to do projects at the secondary level.
Former school board member David Wise, although appreciative of the scaled down project, said he could not support the project because of the financial situation of the corporation.
He said, as a taxpayer, he was unsure if the corporation could support operating costs of all seven elementary schools and would be disappointed if a renovated school were shut down.
"The community wants to keep their community elementary schools, and that's what I've been about since I joined the board," Brain Atkinson responded after the meeting.
LEAAP Center Director Mary Yelton reminded the board the county needs to attract new jobs and new people to the community to create a larger tax base.
Forest Park Elementary Principal Connie Cook finished the public hearing by simply stating the improvements were needed, and "security is not a choice anymore."
Jeff Qualkinbush, Barnes and Thornburg Attorneys, then explained that a petition remonstrance would push the project back at least four months, and up to a year and four months. It would also cost the project $3-4 million in capitalized interest, because the bonds would not be part of the 2009 debt service tax.
Then Qualkinbush explained the resolution, and Atkinson moved to approve the project. Ted Jackson seconded the motion, and after the unanimous approval, the audience burst into applause.
"I think it's a vote for not only our children, but our future. I hope we don't have a remonstrance. It's never stopped a project here before, it's just slowed it down," Dottie King said.
"It's in the hands of the community now," Barr said after the meeting.