Money borrowed for the newest Center Grove elementary school won’t be spent just on the building and property off Morgantown Road.

That money also is planned to put turf onto the soccer field the high school uses about 3.5 miles north and could also help with improvements at other schools around the district.

Bids for the construction of the 116,000-square-foot, 850-student Walnut Grove Elementary School came in well below what was expected, and now school officials are looking at spending the remaining $5 million to $6 million on other projects on their to-do list.

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What exactly that will include hasn’t yet been decided and will depend on the final costs of the new elementary school, Center Grove Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.

But using money from that loan, instead of taking out another loan, is more efficient and will cost less because the school district won’t need to pay the fees required to create and finalize a new loan, Arkanoff said.

“This actually saves taxpayers money on projects we were going to have to do anyway,” he said.

Center Grove is borrowing $42 million in total for the new school, an amount that did not require a public vote by taxpayers in the school district because the tax rate did not need to be increased from the current amount. Voters still could have chosen to send the project to a public vote, but no residents initiated the referendum process. If that process had been started and the project approved, that would have allowed the debt for the new school to be charged to taxpayers in addition to their maximum amount allowed under the state’s property tax caps.

The loan amount was based on estimates the school district got from a construction firm nearly two years ago and was set on the high end, which is necessary due to the fluctuating costs of construction, Arkanoff said. Since then, school officials made tweaks to the designs to try to cut costs and were fortunate that bids came in below what was expected, he said.

Using the remainder of that loan for other projects, instead of returning the money to have a smaller overall loan, is being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, Arkanoff said.

Taking out another loan to do the other projects officials want to do would mean paying more fees. A smaller loan would come with a shorter payback and higher payments and interest rates could be higher next year or further into the future when projects are being done, he said. The process is one Center Grove has used before, he said. When the school district borrowed $42 million for safety and security improvements, about $3 million of that was leftover when work was under budget; the leftover was used to add music rooms and storage areas at the high school, Arkanoff said.

“If we didn’t need to do anything else in the organization, I wouldn’t borrow any more than we need,” Arkanoff said.

“But we have got so many needs that we are actually benefiting the taxpayer by using these funds now.”

Now, officials will need to decide where the money should be spent, he said.

The first project will be to spend $794,000 to install an artificial turf field at the athletics complex on the north side of Center Grove Elementary School, where the high school varsity teams play. Officials decided that project was needed to make the field as safe as possible for players. And adding turf was on the school district’s wish list, but the money for it is rarely available without needing to raise taxes, Arkanoff said. Using the money from the loan will allow the field to be ready for the spring sports season, he said.

Other possibilities include renovations, classroom improvements and equipment at Sugar Grove and Pleasant Grove elementary schools, which have not recently been renovated, Arkanoff said. Both were highlighted as needing improvements during a facilities assessment in 2011, he said.

Also on the list of possibilities: furniture, equipment and playground improvements at other schools, he said. The school district has also been working on an assessment of work needed at the high school after getting feedback from staff, parents and the community, he said.

“The more we can tick off this list now, the better we will be,” Arkanoff said.

School board members are working on a priority list for the money left from the Walnut Grove loan and want to focus on what has the most impact on students and teachers, with safety being a top priority, he said. After safety, officials will be looking at ways to enhance students’ educational environment, which could include anything from equipment to building work, such as improving heating and air conditioning or lighting, Arkanoff said.

Arkanoff doesn’t expect any decisions to be made on how to spend the money until the spring, he said.

At a glance

Center Grove is looking at options for how to spend $5 million to $6 million left from money borrowed to build the new Walnut Grove Elementary School. Here are some of the options being considered:

Soccer field turf — School board members approved spending $794,000 to put turf on the soccer fields located near Center Grove Elementary School that are used by high school teams.

Improvements, renovations and equipment at Pleasant Grove Elementary School and Sugar Grove Elementary School

Playground improvements

Building improvements, including lighting and heating and air conditioning systems

Improvements to Center Grove High School, currently being discussed as part of an assessment of the school

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.