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Petition battle set to begin

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A group of 100 homeowners and voters have challenged a plan to add a wing for prekindergarten through second grade at Indian Creek Intermediate School.

Beginning Aug. 28, supporters and opponents of the project can pick up envelopes from the county’s election office in Franklin and start gathering signatures of Indian Creek residents who either own property or are registered voters. The signature race will last 30 days, until Sept. 26, deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.

If those in favor of the project collect more signatures, then the school district can move forward with the project, modifying architectural plans and seeking bids from contractors. If the opponents collect more signatures, then the district cannot continue making plans for the new wing, Superintendent Tim Edsell said.

“We would have to kind of revisit what the priorities are in being able to make sure that the elementary building is a safe, secure and productive learning environment,” Edsell said. “(Those) are some of the concerns that we do have, that it is not able to operate in that manner over a long period of time.”

Edsell and school district treasurer Debbie Carter are willing to talk with residents anytime during the petition race about why they think the project is necessary, though Edsell said he isn’t comfortable going door to door asking for signatures.

The rest of Indian Creek’s employees, including teachers and principals, cannot share their opinions for or against the project or ask for signatures during work hours or on school property; but they can petition for signatures away from school on their own time, Edsell said.

It will be up to eligible residents and voters who believe in the building project to collect enough signatures so that the new wing can be built, Edsell said. Some Indian Creek residents already have formed a group called Creek Cares for Kids in support of the project, he added.

If the project is defeated, school district officials could consider renovating sections of the existing elementary school, though that might be more expensive than adding the wing to the intermediate school. School officials would next have to review what else can be done to maintain the elementary school, Edsell said.

In June, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson’s school board voted 3-2 to move forward with the roughly $10 million project, which school officials said was needed to replace Indian Creek Elementary School. Sections of the elementary school are between 28 and 75 years old, have plumbing problems, leak and have spaces large enough that bats and other animals can enter the building, officials said.

School officials don’t have to ask voters for a referendum on an elementary school building project that doesn’t exceed $10 million. But residents can still file a remonstrance, in which signatures are collected. Previously petition races, or remonstrances, in the county included an effort to stop a property tax-funded water park in Greenwood in 2008, which succeeded, and an attempt to stop Clark-Pleasant schools from building a new middle school, which lost.

After the school board’s approval, residents who opposed the project had 30 days to collect 100 signatures to send the issue to a petition race. Those 100 signatures were collected and filed with the clerk’s office on July 16, one day before the 30-day window closed.

This isn’t the first time the school district has faced opposition over a building project.

Five years ago, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson proposed spending $26 million to upgrade the elementary, middle and high schools, but voters rejected that referendum. Since then, school officials have been trying to find ways to renovate the elementary school, which they considered their top priority.

Eighteen months ago, architects from Lancer+Beebe conducted a facilities study of the elementary school, and in April they presented recommendations to school officials and residents. They advised building a new, 53,628-square-foot wing at the intermediate school, which currently houses Grades 3-5.

That project was expected to cost at least $8.2 million, while renovating the existing elementary school would cost at least $300,000 more, the company said.

About 70 residents who attended an informational meeting about the proposed project in April said they supported the idea because students need a safe place to learn where they won’t be distracted. Board members Kevin Parks and Joey Dallas voted against the project, citing spending concerns.

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