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Plan to expand moving forward

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Five years after voters overwhelmingly turned down an Indian Creek school construction project, the school district is trying again.

And this time, the project is smaller, won’t raise the tax rate and school officials are hearing messages of support from the community.

The proposed $8.5 million project would add a wing for kindergarten through second-grade students at Indian Creek Intermediate School. The new wing would replace Indian Creek Elementary School, sections of which are between 28 and 75 years old and have leaky roofs, spaces large enough for bats to enter the building and other maintenance problems.

School officials started considering options for the elementary school earlier this school year and initially had considered renovating the current school building. That project included demolishing and rebuilding the oldest sections of the elementary school and renovating other parts of the building, for a total cost of $8.2 million.

Or, for an additional $300,000, the school district could build a new wing for its youngest students at the intermediate school.

Building the new wing at the intermediate school also means school officials can reroute morning traffic so that parents and school bus drivers will have an easier time dropping students off in the morning. Right now long lines of buses and cars stretch in front of the elementary school at the start of the school day, architects from Lancer + Beebe said.

Indian Creek voters defeated a $26 million referendum in 2009 for renovations at the elementary, middle and high schools. But Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson interim superintendent Becky Courtney-Knight said the project the school district is considering now is smaller, won’t raise the tax rate because the school district is paying off other debt and is necessary to ensure the school district’s youngest students aren’t learning in a dilapidated, rundown school.

“It’s not fair for our young kids to have facilities that are so below par of our other facilities,” Courtney-Knight said.

Earlier this month architects presented the two plans to Indian Creek residents, and took an early poll of how residents felt about the proposed projects. More than 90 percent of the people who attended two meetings said they agreed that Indian Creek Elementary needed upgrades to meet safety and academic standards, and that they agreed with the plan to add the new wing to the intermediate school, school officials said.

Courtney-Knight also spoke with residents who were against the project until they attended one of the public meetings and saw the changes needed at the elementary school. She also thinks that residents appreciate that the project being proposed isn’t as large as what was discussed in 2009, and won’t raise the tax rate.

“I think that the board has really listened to (past) complaints,” Courtney-Knight said.

School districts don’t need to ask residents to vote on elementary school construction projects that cost less than $10 million. Residents can challenge the project if they collect 100 signatures from people who oppose the intermediate school’s expansion, but school officials don’t expect that to happen because of the public support shown for the project so far, Courtney-Knight said.

The school district hasn’t decided yet what to do with the old elementary school if all of the students are moved to the intermediate school.

The school board will host a meeting next month to review financing and architectural plans for the project, and give residents a chance to share their opinions about the new wing that’s been proposed. After the financing and plans are reviewed and residents have spoken, the board will vote on whether to move forward with the project, Courtney-Knight said.

School officials don’t know yet exactly when the construction project could begin or when it would be finished. The earliest construction could start is late in the fall, and it would likely take one-and-a-half to two years to complete, Courtney-Knight said. She will work with the board on the project through June’s meeting, and also will spend the next month helping incoming Superintendent Tim Edsell learn everything he needs to about the renovation. Edsell will take over as Indian Creek’s full-time superintendent July 1.

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