A MAJOR FACE LIFT: Renovations at New Palestine High School expected to cost $49M

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NEW PALESTINE — Plans for renovations at New Palestine High School are coming into sharper focus, and the project also has a tentative price tag: $49 million.

Southern Hancock officials have shared the plans with the school board and community during two public hearings this month, including one Monday night. The work at the district’s flagship school — the first renovations in years — entails the demolition of the school’s English/math wing; adding new classrooms and other spaces to existing areas; heavy renovations in some places, such as moving walls and redesigning spaces; and the creation of a new school entrance.

The renovations are expected to provide the high school with additional classrooms; wider hallways for better traffic flow; a significantly larger cafeteria; some large-group instructional spaces; and more space for the school’s fine arts program.

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“The prospect of having some more room to move around and to better meet student needs is very exciting,” Principal Keith Fessler said.

While several design aspects of the work have yet to be determined, officials know the construction will be done in phases, with the creation of a new activities center, or multi-purpose room, first. That could happen as soon as this fall. The new activities center will then be used for temporary classrooms at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The construction is expected to take at least two years, well into the 2022-23 school year.

Building the new activities center will be a seven- to nine-month project, assistant superintendent Bob Yoder said. Once that work is completed, work will move on to the next phases.

District officials have recognized the needs at the high school for some time, said Wes Anderson, school and community relations director. But like with every major project, cost and timing play a role.

District officials will fund the project by adding to its debt service tax rate. In 1998, the district took out $34 million worth of 20-year bonds for construction projects around the district. Those bonds started coming off the district’s debt service tax rate this year.

The financing for the new work will essentially replace the paid-off bonds. This will allow Southern Hancock to pay for about $34 of the $49 million price without increasing the tax rate.

“Any building project we’ve done here we try to take into consideration to be fiscally responsible to everybody,” Yoder said.

Due to the timing on the financing, the district will increase the property tax rate only on the remaining $15 million.

Figures released by the district suggest the property taxes on a property with an assessed value of $100,000 will go up by $56 a year. A property with an assessed value of $150,000 will see a tax increase of $109. One with a value of $200,000 will see a tax increase of $160 a year.

If the district’s assessed value increases by more than 2 percent, the tax impact on the average taxpayer would be less than the listed figures, Anderson said. He noted the district’s assessed value has increased by more than 4 percent each of the past two years.

Yoder said leaders concluded a renovation, rather than building a brand-new high school, was best for the community. They have pointed out that several areas of the building, such as the swimming pool and auditorium, still have plenty of years of good use remaining. Architects and engineers agreed.

“If we had decided to build a new building, you’d be talking about spending over $100 million, and that would have made a huge impact on taxes,” Yoder said.

The big challenge moving forward for district officials will be centered on staff and student safety at the high school. Teachers and students will have to live through at least three years of renovations.

“Safety is a major concern,” Yoder said. However, they plan to take precautions and do the work in phases so it will not become too intrusive.

The project resolution says that in addition to the renovations at the high school, the $49 million project also calls for renovations and improvements at the transportation center; the building and grounds facility; site and paving improvements throughout the corporation; as well as the purchase of technology and equipment.

The project is the latest renovation/construction effort in county schools. Earlier this school year, Mt. Vernon finished its $12 million renovation and addition at Mt. Vernon Middle School. Greenfield-Central will soon launch a campaign expected to cost about $11 million for work at all eight of its buildings.

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Renovations at New Palestine High School:

Estimated cost: $49 million

Timeline: Construction scheduled to begin on a multi-purpose room/activity center in October. It will be used for temporary classroom instruction by the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Construction and renovation on the rest of the high school building is scheduled to start during the summer of 2020 and take two-plus years to complete.

Construction slated to be finished during the 2022-23 school year.

Highlights of the project:

–Demolition of the school’s English/math wing

–New classrooms and significant renovation, including redesigning spaces.

–Creation of a new school entrance.

–A significantly larger cafeteria

–Wider hallways, which will result in better traffic flow.

–Large-group instructional areas.

–More space for fine arts programs

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