BY CAROL ROEHM
District 118 school board members Wednesday authorized the issuance of general obligation school bonds not to exceed $8.5 million for the East Park Elementary School renovation project.
Although school board members Steve Bragorgos, Dan Brown and Frank Young said they were concerned about burdening taxpayers, the board voted 4-3 to move forward with the bond issuance.
“East Park is a very large building and it’s in distress,” Superintendent Mark Denman told the board.
In April 2011, $21.5 million in bonds were issued to cover the renovations at South View and North Ridge middle schools with the understanding that a smaller bond issuance would be needed for the East Park project.
East Park, which formerly was a junior high school until the 1980s, is the third and final school to be improved in the district’s three-year renovation project. South View Middle School was renovated in 2010-2011, and work at North Ridge Middle School is on schedule with completion expected next month.
All three facilities originally were constructed as junior high schools in 1961.
The renovation projects were budgeted in such a way as to not affect the local school tax rate, but East Park is the last and the largest of the three schools to be improved, and the money that is available will dictate how much will be renovated at East Park.
However, since the district’s equalized assessed valuation dropped by 12 percent during the last four years, it was going to affect how much tax the district could levy to support the bond issuance without raising the tax rate.
“This is very important,” Denman told the board of the bond issuance. “We want to capitalize on as many resources as possible. What option we choose will be based on the money we can bring in.”
This year, the owner of a home valued at $66,500 and who was taxed 58 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation paid $93.52 toward the bond issuance for the South View and North Ridge middle schools renovations.
Next year, with the district projecting the equalized assessed valuation to decrease by about 6 percent, the same home could possibly decrease in value to $62,510, which made it necessary to slightly increase the tax rate from 58 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation to 60.5 cents per $100 to support the bond issuance for East Park’s renovations. Even with raising the tax rate, the district still would collect less revenue for the project, with homeowners paying about $89.70 a year toward the East Park bond.
Any additional money needed for the project beyond the bond issuance and about $4 million the district set aside for the renovations would come from the district’s operational fund.
“We’re going to have a difficult time finishing East Park without taking funds from somewhere else,” board president Bill Dobbles said.
At the Oct. 10 school board meeting, Architects from Schmidt Associates of Indianapolis estimated the cost of the East Park project, without any alternates, to be between $10.75 million and $11.75 million.
By comparison, the renovation work at South View cost $12.3 million, while renovations at North Ridge cost $13.8 million.
The East Park project was put out to bid in four packages — general contractor, electrical, plumbing and mechanical — during the first week of November, with bids being presented to the school board at its Dec. 12 meeting and contracts hopefully being awarded Dec. 13.
Renovation work could possibly start as soon as Christmas break, with the work on the existing building being substantially completed in mid-August 2013.
The base project includes installing a new roof, replacing the sidewalks around the school, grading the land around the building, replacing drainage pipes and making them larger in the courtyards, replacing the fixtures and repairing the restrooms, creating two new classrooms in a commons area that might be used as a computer lab and paving the school’s parking lot as well as the road around the school that connects to Colfax Street.
Unlike South View and North Ridge, the lockers — which are a leftover from its junior high days — won’t be replaced at East Park because elementary school children don’t use lockers. The existing lockers will be removed.
The possibility of building a cafetorium like at South View and North Ridge has been ruled out. However, depending on how the bids come in, school board members will consider two options that could be added to the architects’ base bid.
Option 1 would entail constructing an addition to the east side of the gymnasium for a cafeteria with a seating capacity of 448 that would adjoin the existing kitchen. That alternate work is estimated to cost an additional $1.55 million to $1.65 million
Option 2 would entail the construction of a new cafeteria with a seating capacity of 448 and a new kitchen built in the large grassy area to the south of the main entrance of school. That alternate work is estimated to cost an additional $2.2 million to $2.3 million.
Use of force claims
Also on Wednesday, Robin Twidwell, president of the Danville Education Association — the union that represents District 118’s certified and some noncertified employees — addressed the school board about two incidents that occurred at the middle schools.
“I’m not just here as the DEA president, I’m here as a sixth-grade parent and as a teacher,” she said. “I’m very seriously concerned about the use of force in our schools.”
In one incident, Twidwell said, “A middle school parent came in with a belt and beat her daughter, with a resource officer looking on.”
In another incident, Twidwell said a resource officer used a Taser on a student.
“As a parent, I’m concerned about that,” she said. “The school district needs a policy about when force is used, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”
At the end of Wednesday’s school board meeting, after Twidwell had left, board member Dr. Randal Ashton addressed Twidwell’s concerns by saying, “Our board takes violence seriously. There’s no violence on our property.
“If there’s something wrong, we’ll look into it. If there’s something, we’ll fix it,” he said.
On Thursday, Denman said the administration and Director of Public Safety Larry Thomason had reviewed both cases — the belting incident at North Ridge Middle School and the Tasing incident at South View Middle School — and determined that the resource officers had followed proper procedures and had handled the situations appropriately.
“The resource officers are members of the police department and they follow police department policies,” Denman said.
In the North Ridge incident, Denman said resource officer Amy Wasson “was unaware what the mother was going to do” and added that the belting “happened quickly.”
“The resource officer didn’t feel it was abusive and characterized it as three quick swats,” Denman said.
“She told her we don’t do that here on school property,” he added.
Denman confirmed that resource officer Chad Turner used a Taser on a South View student.
Denman said the use of a Taser is permitted, according to police department procedure, “when people are aggressive and there is a threat of personal injury or harm to others.
In the South View incident, Denman said the use of a Taser “was for safety sake because of the child’s out-of-control behavior.”
Denman said that no further action would be taken in those incidents and added that he believes “the resource officers are positive additions to our buildings.”
District 118 school board members will meet at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St.