NEW PALESTINE — As the motion passed, school board member Craig Wagoner pumped his fist in the air, calling out an emphatic “yes!” — it’s official; the old Doe Creek Middle School will re-open next year.
Wagoner was vocal about his support for a plan to move Southern Hancock seventh- and eighth-graders to the building by the fall of 2018, which district officials proposed last month.
With the vote, the Community School Corp of Southern Hancock County school board approved at least $2.5 million to renovate and reopen the former middle school, which closed in 2010 as a cost-cutting measure.
The funds, which the corporation has on hand, will be used to refurbish the old structure, with an estimated $760,000 earmarked to hire a principal, a handful of teachers, front office and other staff. The new hires will be assigned to Brier Creek Intermediate School, which will house fifth- and sixth-grade students as part of the realignment; meanwhile, the building’s current staff and students move together into the old Doe Creek.
The decision takes the district back to its original grade alignment plans, with the district’s three elementary schools housing kindergarten through fourth grade; Brier Creek housing fifth and sixth, and Doe Creek Middle School housing seventh and eighth.
The change comes in response to student body growth.
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.
Kim Norton Watkins, a district parent, said the school is headed in the right direction to accommodate the trend.
“It’s a positive change that we’ve needed for a while,” she said.
Her daughter, Kyleigh, a current Sugar Creek Elementary student, will enter the seventh grade in 2018 and is looking forward to going to the old Doe Creek building.
“For some reason, she has always wanted to go there,” her mother said.
District officials will create a priority list over the next few weeks to get the building — built in 1975 — ready for classes.
“It’s not in bad shape structurally; it just needs to be updated,” said Lisa Lantrip, superintendent. “We want to go through the building and make it is as nice as we can.”
She plans to hire the new Brier Creek Intermediate principal by December 2017 so the administrator can get the front office staff in order, ready to work by July 2018.
Bob Yoder, assistant superintendent, will walk the old school with architects in the coming weeks to figure out where best to spend the funds, but he said he knows the money will go quickly.
He anticipates having to spend several hundred thousand to install new floors throughout the building, paint the walls and add a new phone system. They will also have to create an essential skills classroom with restrooms for students in special education programs.
Early plans call for officials to work from the inside out to get the building ready, Yoder said. They also will have to make sure the building is wired for one-to-one technology.
Yoder is pleased there are plans for the old building to become operational, he said. His only regret is that it couldn’t happen sooner.