By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
— This is the first in a five-part series leading up to the Nov. 5 Goshen Community Schools referendum vote on a $17.15M construction project.
GOSHEN — In nine days, registered voters living in the Goshen Community School district will have the opportunity to vote on a $17.15 million construction project involving both Goshen High School and Goshen Middle School.
The proposed building project includes $10 million for a new pool at either GMS or GHS, in addition to the re-purposing of space at the two schools.
The special referendum is set for Nov. 5 while early and absentee voting has been underway for weeks.
“We believe this project is fiscally responsible and provides for quality programs for the next 20 years,” said GCS Superintendent Diane Woodworth. “We believe it continues to move GCS on the road to excellence in education for students in Goshen. Research shows a strong correlation between music education, physical activity and high student achievement.”
The Goshen Board of School Trustees decided to move forward with the referendum after the Goshen Community Center committee decided to pull its plans in June. That $35 million proposal was a joint effort between GCS and the City of Goshen.
Now school board members are back on their own and have shifted their focus to the renovation of the two schools to add space for their music and physical education programs, as well as remodel the GMS kitchen/cafe. Both current pools would be closed and the space remodeled.
“We have space problems at the high school and the middle school,” said school board president Jane Troup. “Our original plan was put in place to do the same renovations whether the community center moved forward or not. By closing the pool, this space can be remodeled for classroom and physical education space. The music department needs space and this plan provides new space for the music department.”
The music programs at GHS continue to grow each year and have outgrown their space, both Troup and Woodworth said.
“When visiting the high school you will often find students practicing in the hallways and entry ways,” Troup said. “The entire band is unable to practice in their existing band room. The middle school is in desperate need of cafeteria space. Due to small space and inadequate serving lines, students begin eating lunch at 10:30 a.m. with the last lunch at 1:30 p.m.”
Woodworth said the school corporation has been planning for this project since 2007.
“The needs,” she said, “are not new.”
Project breakdown, tax impact
At Goshen High School, there would be an addition for band/orchestra support spaces at $1,710 million and renovations would include $630,000 for remodel of the music department; $270,000 to convert the pool to PE/Classroom area; $510,000 to repair the brick-front of GHS; and $500,000 to replace Phend Field.
The addition at Goshen Middle School would be $540,000 for an PE/Fitness Room and renovations including $490,000 to remodel the pool and lockers for the band; $130,000 to remodel the orchestra to Special Education; and the addition and remodel of the kitchen and cafeteria for $1.1 million.
A special election had already been approved for the Community Center project when it was aborted. GCS officials decided to go ahead with the referendum and is paying $55,000 to $60,000 to hold the special referendum election, said GCS Business Manager Jerry Hawkins.
“By doing it now, by paying for this vote now,” he said, “it will save constructions costs later.”
So, if voters approve the project, what will it cost a taxpayer to fund the project?
The tax impact (above property tax caps) on a median value home of $101,500 for a family living in the GCS district would be $37.03 a year or $3.09 per month.
A $75,000 home would average $1.51 per month and a family in a $200,000 home would pay $8.94 a month for a total of $107.33 a year. The tax impact on $100,000 rental/commercial property would be $109.80 a year.
Hawkins said community members have asked him how can GCS be discussing this proposal with the current shortfall in the transportation and Capital Project Fund budgets.
“If the referendum passes, the cost of the project will be above tax caps, therefore it will not impact the transportation and CPF budgets,” Hawkins said. “When residents hit the 1 percent tax cap, we lose the money because of the property tax cap.”
Where will it be?
While the public will vote on the project Nov. 5, GCS officials said the location for the new natatorium hasn’t been decided yet.
“Since we are using the design build process, all the design work and site evaluations will be done after the referendum vote on the 5th,” Troup explained. “There are factors that we won’t know until after the vote and we have detailed drawings of pool areas.”
Troup said that this way the school corporation is not paying for work to be done prior to a vote. The school board, administration, architect and contractor will review all site details, she said, along with education and transportation implications before making a decision on the site location if the referendum passes.
Woodworth said there are no alternative sites under consideration for this project.
Before it was withdrawn, the Goshen Community Center had considered nine potential sites, including North Meadows site near Hackett Road, Dierdorff Road near Prairie View Elementary School, the Fidler’s Pond site, the Elkhart County Fairgrounds site, the Quality Drive Away site west of North Main Street, the Plymouth Avenue site located directly across from Goshen Middle School, the Old Western Rubber site at Douglas and Plymouth, the Greencroft site along C.R. 27 and the old Holiday Inn site by U.S. 33 and Fairfield Avenue.
Pass or fail
What happens next if voters approve the referendum?
“If the referendum passes,” Woodworth said, “the board will appoint a technical review committee and the design build work will begin.”
After that committee has been formed, an architect and contractor team will be selected from their proposals and drawings that have been submitted, she added.
By using the design build process — it saves the school corporation a lot of money up front, Troup said.
“Once the architects and contractors look at both sites, they will make recommendations and give us cost estimates for each site,” Troup said. “This will also determine whether it will be a free standing building or attached (to one of the schools).”
If the referendum fails, GCS officials won’t be able to bring back the same project to the public for 365 days, Woodworth said.
Basically, Troup said, there wouldn’t be a project.
“We (would) continue to repair the pools as long as possible,” Troup said. “The high school pool (built in the early 1960s) is getting old enough that many parts are no longer available. The music department will continue their excellent program even though the space is lacking. The middle school will continue to serve lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. We do the best we can.”