GREENFIELD — Roughly $824,000 has been spent this summer on renovations to special education classrooms in three county school districts.
Paintbrushes and hammers came out in full force in an effort to get the classrooms ready for the start of the school year after Greenfield-Central announced it was pulling out of the Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services cooperative, which provides staff, training and other support services for special education students from area school districts.
Greenfield-Central’s announcement signaled change for districts that had sent their students with special needs to classrooms in Greenfield as part of the co-op agreement. With Greenfield no longer participating, school officials in other districts began making plans to keep their students in house.
The transition has required renovations at Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock schools as well as Greenfield-Central.
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The biggest chunk of the renovation dollars this summer has gone to the new Catamount Center of Greenfield Central. Catamount, another name for a cougar and a nod to the Greenfield-Central mascot, is an alternative education center in a former church building on Wilson Street. It will house up to 20 students who need a quieter, more personal setting than they can find in a typical school.
The Catamount Center will house students with autism or behavioral issues; $325,000 was spent to buy the building, and at least $50,000 is being spent on renovations, such as carpeting, wheelchair ramps and drainage in the parking lot.
Another roughly $50,000 is being spent on special education equipment for the school corporation’s other classrooms. Since the previous equipment belonged to the cooperative, Greenfield-Central had to buy its own this year — “Everything from changing tables to swings to putting things in a sensory room,” Superintendent Harold Olin said.
School officials expect the building to be ready Monday for the beginning of the school year, Olin said.
As he walked through the building on a recent afternoon, he said he’s excited about the corporation’s new venture.
School officials decided to break away from the multicounty special education cooperative because they wanted more control over state and federal funding to serve Greenfield-Central students, who made up most of the special education students in the cooperative.
Most of the teachers who worked in Greenfield-Central schools under the cooperative were rehired under Greenfield-Central contracts, and others were hired by the cooperative. A few new teachers who will start Monday will be a welcome addition to the program, Olin said.
The school district hired two behavioral intervention specialists, who will serve only Greenfield-Central students, which Olin said is more effective than when personnel had to be shared among districts.
For the most part, the roughly 960 Greenfield-Central special education students will notice little change, Olin added, since most of the same teachers will be in place.
Despite the costs to Greenfield-Central and other school corporations, Olin is pleased with the Greenfield-Central decision to run its own special education programs.
“We have the numbers to justify doing it on our own,” he said, adding that when the cooperative was formed 41 years ago schools wanted to work together to meet state and federal requirements for special education students.
Olin said Greenfield-Central receives about $4 million a year in state and federal funding to serve its students.
“We feel like we want to control how we spend those special education dollars,” he said.
And while Greenfield-Central is the corporation that pulled out of the cooperative, other county schools are feeling the effects. Mt. Vernon, Eastern Hancock and Southern Hancock will remain part of the cooperative but will educate students in their own buildings as opposed to sending them to other schools.
No renovations were required at Eastern Hancock, but several classrooms in Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock have been under the hammer.
Southern Hancock is spending about $250,000 on renovations to three classrooms at Brandywine Elementary School and three classrooms at New Palestine High School. Restrooms and a sensory room were added at Brandywine, Superintendent Lisa Lantrip wrote in an email, while restrooms, a life skills living area and a sensory area were added to the high school.
“The classroom renovations … will be ready for our students on the first student day,” Lantrip said via email.
At Mt. Vernon High School, a former band room has been gutted to meet the needs of five or six students with severe and profound special needs. Renovations totaled a little less than $150,000, including costs for a restroom with a shower and dressing area, sensory activities and a “quiet room” where students can break away from the activity.
Mt. Vernon assistant superintendent Mike Horton said the district is ready to welcome back its own.
“They’re our students,” he said. “They’re just coming home.”
Greenfield-Central’s withdrawal from a multi-county special education cooperative this year led to roughly $824,000 in bricks-and-mortar expenses for several local schools. Here’s a look at the estimated breakdown:
$425,000: Cost for Greenfield-Central to buy a building for alternative education ($325,000), plus estimated renovations to the building and new special education equipment for classes across the corporation.
$149,173: Cost to Mt. Vernon to renovate a former high school band room into a special education room for those with severe developmental needs.
$250,000: Cost to Southern Hancock to renovate rooms at Brandywine Elementary School ($110,000) and New Palestine High School ($140,000).
Some costs will be recouped when Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services sells its building on Fields Boulevard and vacant land on Franklin Street. For example, roughly $220,000 will go to Greenfield-Central from the Fields Boulevard property (that’s 30 percent of the building’s appraised value). Local schools will get a share of the sale of four acres on Franklin Street; the land is appraised at $72,000.