NEW PALESTINE – The halls of the former Doe Creek Middle School haven’t heard the footfalls of students in more than seven years.
Save for janitors and occasional visits from maintenance staff, there is little traffic in the building that closed as part of a cost-cutting measure in 2010.
But by fall 2018, the schoolhouse could reopen to students and staff as leaders at Southern Hancock look for ways to accommodate a growing student body in the district, where two of the district’s three elementary schools are nearing capacity, officials said.
School leaders this week announced plans to invest about $2.5 million in renovating the facility at 2279 S. County Road 600W — built in 1975 — and hiring some $760,000 in additional staff to reopen it to seventh- and eighth-grade students in August 2018. The proposal goes before the school board May 8 for approval.
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Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said the $2.5 million estimate — taken from the district’s general and rainy day funds could easily rise; she said the district has not broken down the exact cost for renovations and will update parents along the way.
“That’s the bare minimum,” she said. “But we don’t know the ceiling on that at all.”
Personnel costs could also be impacted by enrollment, she said.
Southern Hancock enrolls roughly 70 new students annually, which grew the overall student body to about 3,400 students this year; that’s a nearly 7 percent increase since 2013, data shows.
Much of that growth is at the elementary level, which rose from 1,561 students in 2012 to 1,745 in 2016.
The district is the second school system in the county to announce plans to renovate buildings to meet growing enrollment needs. Last fall, Mt. Vernon unveiled plans to expand Mt. Vernon Middle School, citing a similar space crunch.
The former Doe Creek Middle School was shut down in 2010 after officials determined the district couldn’t afford to continue operating both a middle school and an intermediate school.
District officials shut down the former middle school, moving the seventh- and eighth-grade students who formerly attended there to Brier Creek Intermediate School, which then adopted the Doe Creek Middle School name.
The new plans call for the district’s three elementary schools (currently K-6) to house kindergarten through fourth grade. Fifth- and sixth-graders would move to the current Doe Creek — which would revert to its Brier Creek Intermediate name — and the seventh- and eighth-graders currently housed there would transfer to the old Doe Creek.
District officials posted basic details of the plan over social media this week, generating discussion among local families.
Donna VanderWal Wilson of New Palestine has two daughters in the school system. Her youngest, Lauren, is a fourth-grader at Sugar Creek, where she’ll stay next year under the proposal before heading to Brier Creek Intermediate in the fall of 2018 with the rest of the district’s fifth and sixth-graders.
VanderWal Wilson originally thought the district should avoid moving the seventh- and eighth-graders to a different school. But the more she learned, the more supportive she became of the plan. The athletic facilities at the old Doe Creek, for example, are better-suited for older students, as the building was originally designed for middle school programming.
District officials pointed to growing enrollment at the district’s three elementary schools as the impetus for the change. The district picked up 85 new elementary school students this year, pushing class sizes at Sugar Creek and New Palestine Elementary schools above the 25-student limit at some grade levels, Lantrip said.
Every grade at Sugar Creek currently averages 26 students per class; the fourth grade is the issue at New Palestine Elementary, where there are 28 per class. District-wide, the average elementary classroom size is currently 24 students per class, leaving little room for growth, Lantrip said.
Moving the fifth and sixth-graders to Brier Creek Intermediate will give the district room to take in more than 900 new kindergarten through fourth-graders in the future while keeping classroom sizes manageable, officials said.
If the reopening is approved, district leaders plan to start renovating the old Doe Creek structure as soon as summer, though it won’t open until fall 2018.
District officials have already begun making their to-do list for the building.
The school needs new lighting, floor coverings, fresh paint and repairs to its parking lot. Technology upgrades, such as to the media center and the building’s security system, must also be considered, officials said.
“At the old Doe Creek — my goal is to make it look new,” said Bob Yoder, assistant superintendent.
District leaders don’t plan to hire many new teachers, but some new staff positions will be created using $760,000 earmarked for the transition.
The district expects to hire a principal, office staff, a clinic assistant, a social worker, four art teachers, two custodians and maintenance personnel. Those staff members will work at Brier Creek.
School board member Craig Wagoner said growing enrollment numbers illustrate the need for change, and he believes district officials have thoroughly considered their options.
Reopening the old facility is financially feasible, he said.
“It would really give us 10 plus years of good growth potential,” he said. “As a corporation, it sets us up for success.”
Student-body growth at the elementary level has prompted Southern Hancock school officials to consider opening the former Doe Creek Middle School, which has been closed since 2010. Here’s a look at the number of new students the district’s elementary schools have added annually in recent years:
2013-14: Plus 12 students
2014-15: Plus 32 students
2015-16: Plus 55 students
2016-17: Plus 85 students
Overall enrollment has also risen steadily:
Southern Hancock school officials estimate they will put about $2.5 million into renovating the former Doe Creek Middle School in order to reopen it to students by fall 2018.
A breakdown of how that $2.5 million will be spent has not been released, but school officials said needs are expected to include the following:
- LED lights
- Paint for the interior
- Technology infrastructure
- Camera system
- Phone system
- Life skills classroom updates
- Kitchen equipment
- Office computers
- Media center upgrades, equipment
- Parking lot repairs, lights