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School projects almost finished

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Students and staff at two Greenwood elementary schools soon will have more classroom and office space.

Construction projects at Westwood and Southwest to add classrooms, offices, common areas and a media center are nearly finished. All that’s left is to move furniture into classrooms at Westwood, hook up a new heating and air conditioning system at Southwest and finish some exterior roof and paving work at both schools, director of fiscal services Todd Pritchett said.

The projects, which cost a total of about $3.2 million, were the first school construction projects in Johnson County since 2011, when Clark-Pleasant opened its new middle school.

During the past several years, local school districts have put off expansion and construction plans because of shrinking budgets, and voters have rejected paying more for school building projects.

The projects at the two Greenwood schools were needed because class sizes were reaching the upper 20s, and neither building had anywhere to put new or current students.

Now, other school districts have new building plans in the works.

Center Grove schools will start $42 million in construction work in the late spring or early summer at Center Grove Elementary, North Grove Elementary and Center Grove High School. School officials at Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools are considering whether to make renovations at Indian Creek Elementary or to erect a new building.

Voters don’t cast a ballot for elementary school projects that cost less than $10 million or for high school projects that cost less than $20 million.

Westwood students should be able to start using their new classrooms this week, once new furniture arrives. Teachers probably won’t move entire classes into the addition because the school year is two-thirds complete, but they will have added room for lessons if needed, Pritchett said.

At Southwest, special education students have been using classrooms that were converted from office space since the start of the school year.

Office staff and other employees are still cramped in older classrooms and smaller-than-usual spaces as their newly built offices are almost but not quite done. Work crews still need to hook up the heating and air conditioning system and touch up any nicks or scratches that happened during construction, Pritchett said.

“(Principal Beth Guilfoy) wanted to make sure everything was complete so that there wouldn’t be an interference with the process,” Pritchett said. “We wanted to make sure all work was done.”

Construction crews have been working on both schools since last summer. While about 150 fewer students attend Greenwood schools, especially on the northeast side of the school district, Southwest and Westwood schools had nearly 30 students in some classrooms and had no more room.

The school district borrowed about $2 million for the Southwest project, which included creating a new

media center for students, and just under $1.4 million to add the three classrooms at Westwood.

Both projects are expected to come in under budget, with the tab at Southwest $50,000 less than expected and the Westwood project about $122,000 less than expected, Pritchett said.

Construction at the schools originally was expected to be finished last month. Crews were delayed getting permits over the summer and had to postpone some of the work because of harsh winter weather.

 Those delays cost about $30,000 in labor and other expenses, but that amount had been included in the project’s original budget, Pritchett said.

“The costs were just less than what was anticipated. It really is that simple,” Pritchett said.

Once the interior work is finished and the weather warms up, crews will have a few finishing touches to complete on the outside of both elementary schools. Southwest and Westwood both need some minor roof work, and crews also need to pave several spots at both schools’ parking lots. A rubberized safety surface also will be poured at Westwood’s playground once crews know the temperature won’t immediately drop below freezing, Pritchett said.

“We are in the punch-list phase,” he said.

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