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District considers $42M in upgrades schools

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Center Grove school board has hired an architectural firm to begin designing up to $42 million in renovations and security upgrades for each of its schools.

School board members approved paying more than $2 million to begin designs for the projects, which will involve all Center Grove schools but will focus most heavily on the high school and Center Grove and North Grove elementary schools.

Center Grove will borrow the money after other debt is paid off to pay CSO Architects, a project manager, and for the work that will be done to the buildings.

Renovations at the two elementary schools will be capped at $10 million each, and upgrades at the high school will not be more than $20 million. The cost to upgrade security at all buildings is about $1.4 million, Chief Financial Officer Paul Gabriel said.

By the numbers

Center Grove schools board members approved a contract to begin designing up to $42 million in improvement projects to school buildings. Here’s what is included in that project:

$1.4 million

Security upgrades for eight schools including Center Grove, North Grove, Maple Grove, Pleasant Grove and Sugar Grove elementary schools, both middle schools and Center Grove High School.

$20 million

Renovations to Center Grove and North Grove elementary schools, each capped at $10 million. The projects would include exterior repairs, drainage improvements, replacing pipes and other renovations to reduce student distractions.

$20 million

Renovations at Center Grove High School, capped at $20 million. Project would include redesigning hallways and stairwells, replacing pipes and making other renovations to reduce student distractions.

Since the school district intends to borrow money to pay for the projects, the elementary school renovation projects are being capped at $10 million each and the high school renovations at $20 million, which are the caps under state law that don’t require the projects to be approved in a referendum, Gabriel said.

The contract is the first step Center Grove has taken to implement changes listed in a facilities study that was completed last year. The study showed how the school district needed to improve security, have classrooms that made it easier for students to concentrate while in school and ensure the buildings lasted as long as possible.

Renovations aren’t expected to begin until the summer of 2014, and Center Grove won’t begin borrowing money for the project until next year at the earliest, Gabriel said.

Borrowing the money shouldn’t increase property taxes because of debt that Center Grove will soon pay off. Gabriel didn’t have the details on what that debt was from or when the district would borrow the money needed for each project.

The facilities report originally identified about $19 million in improvements that could be made at Center Grove Elementary School, about $16 million at North Grove and more than $51 million at the high school. Some of the projects listed include replacing aging pipes, widening hallways and stairwells, improving outdoor drainage, repairing exterior walls and making improvements aimed at reducing distractions to students, such as replacing furniture and improving heating and cooling.

School officials are not sure if they will borrow the money all at once or in multiple loans. That will be more clear once officials have a better idea of the construction and timetable, Gabriel said.

Under state law, the projects would be subject to a public remonstrance, in which residents file a formal petition of protest with the state. The district then would have to collect more signatures in favor of the project than are gathered against it, or else the district would be stopped from borrowing the money for one year, Gabriel said.

Planned security improvements are included in the total project cost. Those improvements to Center Grove’s buildings would total about $1.4 million and include controlling access to buildings, improving exterior lighting, providing backup power for emergency communications, replacing fire sprinklers and improving playground security.

Additional security improvements are being planned this year in reaction to the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., school officials have said.

Conceptual designs for the renovation projects could be ready to be reviewed by the school board as early as March, assistant superintendent Bill Long said.

Because of the complexity of the projects Center Grove will hire a construction manager to oversee the upgrades. The school district will borrow money to pay for that position as well, Gabriel said.

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