New Palestine High School renovation project gets rolling

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NEW PALESTINE — After years of planning, the $49 million renovation and addition project at New Palestine High School is finally getting under way.

While work on the new softball field has already started, excavation for a new fieldhouse and more parking is expected to start as soon as next week. Bids were approved by the school board last week.

District officials estimate the project will take a little over two years to complete. Students should be able to return to the main building during the middle part of the 2022-23 school year, said Wes Anderson, director of school and community relations.

The renovations and additions will be done in two phases, with the first phase to include three major projects: construction of a new fieldhouse; new parking; and a new softball field. Work is expected to be completed on phase one in late 2020, weather permitting.

Work on the construction of a fieldhouse is slated as the top priority. The fieldhouse will house a number of temporary classrooms during renovations to the current high school building. The fieldhouse will be constructed at the southeast corner of high school where the varsity softball field currently sits.

Crews are already working on creating a new turf field for the state-champion softball team. It’s located east of the tennis courts. If the new field is not complete in time for the start of the season, the first few games of 2020 will be played on the junior varsity field, Anderson said.

Once the renovations to the high school building are complete, during phase two of the project, students will move back into the main building. The fieldhouse will then be finished with three basketball and volleyball courts, a three-lane indoor track, and additional locker rooms and restrooms.

Renovations to the existing high school structure will not begin until after the first phase of the project is done, Anderson said. Once the fieldhouse is set up and functioning as the site for 18 temporary classrooms, construction and renovations to the current high school will begin. Plans are to increase the number of classrooms in the high school to reflect growing enrollment, but an exact number has not been determined.

Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said district officials are excited to get this project started, with the fieldhouse being a huge piece of the new design.

“When we asked our students, staff and community what they wanted to see in this project, a fieldhouse was at the top of all three lists,” Lantrip said.

Being able to add a multipurpose sports fieldhouse is a plus, Lantrip said, because the fieldhouse will be a great space for students and the community once the project is complete.

“Plus, building this structure first and using it for temporary classrooms will be a cheaper and safer alternative to using portable classroom trailers during construction,” Lantrip said.

Anderson noted that the fieldhouse’s location is some distance from where renovations will take place inside the school. There should be little or no noise pollution inside the temporary classrooms, he pointed out.

The renovation project has been a long time in the making. District officials started with a facilities study of every structure. The study provided information and estimates about renovation needs.

The renovation of the high school, it was determined, was needed to handle growing enrollment, officials said. The new construction became a priority after the recent completion of a renovation project to re-open the building now known as New Palestine Junior High.

The high school has several different sections that were built at different times. The study determined some of the areas needed renovation, while other parts of the building remained viable. The auditorium, pool, gymnasiums, and media center are in good shape, the study concluded, so building a brand new high school was not necessary, Anderson said.

Using that recommendation, district officials decided to renovate the high school in a way to provide students with a 21st-century facility while being fiscally responsible to the district’s taxpayers.

Officials will have to add to its debt service tax rate but have planned for the work. In 1998, the district took out $34 million in bonds for 20 years for construction projects. Those bonds come off the books this year. It means the district can fund $34 million of the $49 million for the high school project without increasing the tax rate.