Wise Stewardship Brings Added Security, Space & Updates
Writer / Amanda Ennis . Photographer / James Eichelman
Prudent and careful planning can make it possible to modernize and improve our community’s schools without burdening the taxpayers. In fact, the Center Grove Community School Corporation is currently undergoing a $42 million renovation and expansion to multiple school buildings, and it is doing so without a tax increase.
Project: Safety, Security and Stewardship commenced this spring and will be completed in 2016. The project is divided into three phases:
Phase One—safety and security updates to all schools
Phase Two—facility updates/additions to Center Grove Elementary and North Grove Elementary
Phase Three—facility updates to Center Grove High School
Phase One—Safety & Security
With the safety and security of each student and staff member in mind, Phase One of the project will create a secure entrance in all schools. This entrance will include a secure vestibule at the main entrance that will funnel all guests through the main office area before doors are unlocked to grant access to an approved destination. The district’s newest school, Maple Grove, was built with this feature; the other seven schools were not. Another new security feature in all of the elementary and middle schools will be a kiosk that scans driver’s licenses called Lobby Guard. When visitors enter the main office area, they will insert their license into the kiosk. It will then scan their license and instantly produce a background check and possible alert. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bill Long shares, “We need a safe and secure environment for learning to take place. Our secure entries, license scan, police department and narcotics dog all play a part in making staff and students feel secure.”
Secure entrances were built and completed at Sugar Grove Elementary School, Center Grove Middle School Central and Center Grove Middle School North this summer. Pleasant Grove Elementary School’s main office is currently being renovated, and its secure entrance will be finished this fall at the completion of the office renovation. The secure entrance at Center Grove Elementary is scheduled for completion over the upcoming Christmas break. North Grove’s secure entrance is scheduled to be completed around the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Center Grove High School will add secure entrances at both the main entrance off Morgantown Road and at the Hall of Excellence entrance on the east side of the school. The completion date for these secure high school entrances has not been finalized.
Phase Two—Elementary Renovations & Expansions
Phase Two of the project focuses on building updates and expansions at North Grove Elementary and Center Grove Elementary. Construction on these projects began June 2. At NGES and CGES, each building will receive infrastructure improvements including a renovation and expansion to the main office with a secure entrance vestibule addition, renovation of the old office and cafeteria area, restroom renovations, construction of a new bus parking lot, upgraded electrical and data systems, new hallway finishes, and a new fire protection system. Classrooms at both schools will also receive updated finishes that include new wall coverings, cubbies, shelving, storage areas, whiteboards and carpet.
Each school will also receive a new geothermal HVAC system scheduled for completion this fall. A geothermal system takes water and circulates it through a loop of pipes that wind through ground water to either cool it (in the summer) or warm it (in the winter), utilizing the constant temperature from the ground. It eliminates the need for natural gas to heat the air or electricity to power large chillers to cool it down. Center Grove Facilities Engineer Dave Statler shares, “The change to a geothermal HVAC system was driven by air quality concerns. This new system will provide the schools more consistent temperature and delivery of outside air. We made this choice also because it will help lower the district’s energy costs in the future.”
In both elementary schools, the gymnasiums are being moved from the center of the buildings where they currently adjoin the cafeteria to the outside of the buildings. This re-design also helps ensure safety and security, as outside groups that rent the gyms on weekends and evenings will now only have access to the gym. In each building, these gymnasium relocations will make room for the expansion of the current cafeterias. With larger cafeteria lines and eating space, both schools can serve more students at one time.
In total, North Grove will add 14,208 square feet of space that will afford the school the above-mentioned gym and additional kindergarten classrooms. North Grove’s primary playground will also be relocated as part of this project.
Center Grove Elementary School’s additional 16,700 square feet will come in the form of a new gymnasium and four new classrooms. The four new classrooms were originally a project planned for the future. Because this project came in under budget, however, the corporation was able to add the classrooms to the current project.
Challenges both elementary schools will face over the next school year include teachers moving their students and materials to temporary sites while classrooms receive their facelift. All classes will be held in temporary sites for a period of two to four weeks. At North Grove, art and music will be moved out of their rooms and taught from a cart. The art and music classrooms will become the temporary sites used by teachers and students whose rooms are being renovated. At CGES, these temporary classes will be housed in the gymnasium, which means the school’s physical education teacher will not have access to a gym for many months. Alternate ways of providing for P.E. have been created for this school year.
Instructional Space at a Premium
For Center Grove Elementary, it’s been close to 15 years since the school has seen an update. CGES’ enrollment has continued to grow, and it currently has the second largest elementary student population in the district with an enrollment of 730 students. As there continues to be steady growth, instructional space in the building is at a premium. Principal Bruce Haddix shares, “We look forward to being able to recapture some student areas such as a science lab, a large group instruction room, a place for our PTO to work, an enlarged cafeteria and four new classrooms. Every nook and cranny in our building is currently being used for students in some manner, and it will be a positive change to have appropriate spaces where students can learn and grow.”
“Patience, Coffee and Lots of Chocolate!”
With the challenges that come with facing a major building construction project during the school year, Haddix shares that his staff plans to face each day with flexibility, patience and lots of coffee and chocolate.
Mr. Haddix also looks forward to the opportunities this project will provide the students, even this school year. “Teachers at CGES plan to incorporate the construction process into their lessons and enjoy an unusual, real-life experience as we watch it unfold before our eyes. Students need to understand how the workers are using what they learned in school to make our renovations happen. Don’t be surprised if we’re out there “measuring” for our new gym, calculating how much larger the cafeteria needs to be and how many rolls of wall covering will be needed for each classroom. What a wonderful opportunity for CGES students.”
Construction at both elementary schools is scheduled to run through September 2015.
Phase Three—Renovation of Center Grove High School
Phase Three of the project shifts the focus to Center Grove High School. Along with the addition of two secure entrances, planned renovations also include relocating the main office from its current location in the center of the building to the school’s main entrance. The school will also gain a renovated media center, a student commons area through the center of the building, renovated science labs, upgrades to finishes and ADA (American Disabilities Act) restroom upgrades throughout the building. Construction for this phase is scheduled to begin this October after it receives final approval from the school board. It is scheduled to be completed in late 2016.
The idea of stewardship is central to this entire project because while there were major improvements, expansions and capacity issues that needed to be addressed in multiple buildings, Center Grove addressed them without going to the district’s tax base and requesting a raise in property taxes. In fact, after a 1028 hearing this past winter that informed interested White River Township residents of the proposed project, there was no strong voice of opposition. With the elementary projects being under $10 million per building, and the high school project being under $20 million, the project did not require a referendum vote and could move forward. Dr. Long shares, “The School Board has done a great job of managing the corporation’s debt and trying to plan for new projects ahead. As old debt comes off our books, we’re able to do what needs to be done without increasing our debt. Through strategic planning, we recommended to the board that safety and security was a top priority. Financially, we knew we were in a position to address the safety and security issues and do much of the needed renovation of the two elementary buildings and the high school. Obviously, no one gets too upset when you don’t have to raise taxes. Ultimately, through our two-year-long strategic planning sessions, we really showed a great need. We did a thorough assessment on all of the buildings and consulted parents and staff in all buildings. When you show the need, there are fewer questions about the validity of the proposal.”
Center Grove Elementary School parent Tricia Garrett contributes this final thought: “Our building is definitely in need of an update, added classroom space and a new gym. The thing I am looking forward to the most is the renovation of every classroom. My third grader can’t wait to move to the gym for two weeks while his room is under construction. It’s going to be a long process, but looking forward, I know that the newly renovated building will be a wonderful blessing for the CGES community.”