Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. leaders are considering an $11.4 million renovation to the district’s middle school as part of an effort to move eighth-graders — currently housed at the high school — back into the building.
The proposed upgrades include nearly 30,000 square feet of additions to the 1970s-era school building that currently houses sixth- and seventh-graders. More classroom space to help accommodate the 300 eighth-graders, a larger cafeteria and a new gym are planned.
The renovations were recommended after a six-month feasibility study looked at projections for future growth in the school district and how best to accommodate a burgeoning student population.
Odle McGuire Shook, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm, was tapped to perform the district’s feasibility study last year to help the district plan for its fast-growing student population. The district grew approximately 6.4 percent from the 2011-12 school year to last year, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.
The study showed the high school, housing eighth- through 12th-graders, is cramped, and the additions at the middle school aim to alleviate some of the space crunch. In the future, the eighth-grade academy will be moved from the high school to the middle school.
The renovations would come in two parts. The first renovation will be an approximately 3,400 square-foot expansion of the current middle school cafeteria to accommodate new serving lines and gathering space for students. The renovation expands the cafeteria into the school’s current auxiliary gym, a space that’s currently underutilized, school officials say.
The cafeteria renovation is expected to cost about $1.4 million, and school leaders will pay for it with cash the district has on hand, said Brian Tomamichel, the corporation’s chief financial officer.
Construction could begin as early as this winter, said Gerard Skibinski, principal architect at Odle McGuire Shook.
The second part of the renovations likely will come next summer, said Superintendent Shane Robbins. Plans call for 30,000 square feet of additions to be used for new classroom space and a gym.
The second phase of renovations is estimated to cost about $10 million, and the school district will likely look at loans to pay for the project, Robbins said.
Property taxes won’t be impacted by the bond; however, because the school district recently refinanced two loans that resulted in about $8 million of savings for the district, Tomamichel said.
Concerns about the outdated middle school facilities repeatedly arose among parents, teachers and administrators during the study, officials said.
Public meetings and input from district employees also highlighted the desire to move eighth-grade students back to the middle school, which doesn’t currently have space to accommodate them.
The high school also is over capacity — last year, about 1,510 students attended class at the building intended for 1,500.
Moving the eighth-graders to the middle school will free up space at the high school, Robbins said.
A committee of community stakeholders unanimously supported the plan to renovate the middle school as the best option for accommodating growth, said school board member Shannon Walls, who served on the committee.
The renovation is the most-cost effective way to deal with growing enrollment, Robbins said, while addressing current capacity problems.
“This is going to give us long-term flexibility for growth at all of our schools,” he said.
The school board unanimously approved the cafeteria renovation Monday night and plans to take up the second phase of renovation at its meeting next month.