Final public meeting is Monday at Jeff-Craig: three options are still being considered

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After four public meetings at locations around Switzerland County, the final meeting to discuss options for Jefferson-Craig Elementary School will be held this Monday, February 5th, at the elementary school.

“We’ve had meetings at the central office, East Enterprise, Moorefield, and Patriot,” superintendent Tracy Caddell said. “We will be finishing up this Monday with a walk through at Jefferson-Craig and another presentation. I think the meetings have been very productive.”

The superintendent said that all of the meetings have been attended by a mixture of school personnel, school board members, and members of the community at large.

“There’s been a lot of open and frank dialogue,” the superintendent said. “Right now I think we’ve got three options on the table that we’re looking at. When we started, we had two, but a third option has been raised through these meetings, and I think we owe it to the community to take a look at it.”

The two options first considered were to build a new Jeff-Craig Elementary on a portion of the land that the school corporation already owns to the west of the high school; or to extensively renovate the current building.

But during the public meeting at Moorefield, a third option was presented by a member of the public; and the superintendent heard the same idea again at the Patriot meeting.

The idea would be to take the current Jefferson-Craig/Middle School complex and make it entirely a kindergarten through sixth grade school. There would probably be room left over to also move the administrative offices to a portion of the building.

The school corporation would then construct a wing onto the high school that would house seventh and eighth graders. The superintendent said that this addition – if it is built – would be constructed with a goal of completely separating the junior high students from the high school student body.

“I would think that such an addition would have to include an auxiliary gym, an expanded library, and an expanded cafeteria,” Tracy Caddell said. “The goal would be to have a completely separate wing where the junior high students would have their own identity and not mix with the high school students.”

Regardless of which of the three options is selected by the school board; Superintendent Caddell said that redistricting of students of elementary age will be involved in order to balance the enrollment of the two elementaries. Currently Switzerland County Elementary has a student population of approximately 460; while Jefferson-Craig’s student population is about 260.

If the sixth graders are moved back to the elementary schools, in order to free up space at Switzerland County Elementary School; district lines would be redrawn so that each of the elementaries would have approximately 360 students in them.

“The goal of redistricting is to reduce the amount of time a student is on the bus,” the superintendent said. “And to equalize enrollments so that you don’t have large classes at Switzerland County Elementary School and small class sizes at Jeff-Craig.”

As for the option of building onto the high school, the superintendent said that no cost estimates have been calculated on such a plan, but that the plan will be considered from all angles. State law requires kindergarten through third graders to be on the ground floor of a school building; and along with the high school addition; renovations would still have to be made at Jeff-Craig.

“We will take it as an idea from the community and we’ll price it out and see if it’s something that the board should consider,” Tracy Caddell said. “When we started this we had two options, but after listening to the community, we now have three. We are listening to what the people are telling us.”

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The series of meetings was designed to hear the community’s feelings about three issues: the possible renovation to Jefferson-Craig Elementary School or the construction of a new elementary school; the redistricting of the county in order to better balance the enrollments at the two elementary schools; and the possibility of relocating the administrative offices from the old high school to the current Jefferson-Craig Elementary should the decision be made to build a new school.

This series of meetings came more than two years after a feasibility study committee made up of local residents toured all four buildings and listened to the concerns of the principals and staff.

One of the issues then was a recommendation to send the sixth graders back to the elementary schools; which would lighten the load on the overcrowded middle school but without some modifications to the elementary schools, would be impossible.

Another issue is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ push to provide all day, everyday kindergarten. That would further strain the space issues at both elementary schools.

At Jefferson-Craig, the issue is whether or not to put the 1954-building through a third renovation, which would have to be extensive to not only take back the sixth graders and the new students from redistricting; but would also have to go through an overhaul of its infrastructure, from plumbing to electrical to HVAC, because nearly all of it is original to the construction of the building.

Building on would also mean having to relocate the playground further to the north, which would probably mean moving the high school softball field.

The other option is to build a new elementary school on the land to the west of the high school that the school system already owns. This would allow for the growth needed, and would also eliminate some dangers with buses and other automobiles moving in and out of the parking lot at the same time for the three buildings – Jeff-Craig, the middle school, and the high school.

Should a new elementary school be built, the administrative offices would likely be moved to the current Jeff-Craig. The current administration building is over 100 years old, and is in need of constant repair and upkeep. Asbestos is also a problem, as is flooding in the basement and concerns with the heating and electrical system.

Jefferson-Craig could also be used to house some special needs classrooms; as well as provide classrooms on the west end if needed by the middle school.

A new elementary school would almost certainly include a new gym, which would eliminate the sharing that is now going on between the middle school and Jeff-Craig and allow coaches to have practices earlier in the evening.

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Those attending this Monday night will have the chance to tour Jefferson-Craig before the presentation. Once this meeting is completed, the superintendent and his staff will begin the process of filtering through the options and ideas, and are expected to bring recommendations to the school board for its consideration at the February 19th meeting.

“This Monday is the final meeting,” Tracy Caddell said. “It’s up to the community. I hope people come out.”

Tracy Caddell said that once recommendations are made to the school board, he expects the matter to move fairly quickly. He said that state law requires that any school corporation that is wanting to build first must go through the process of looking at year around school as an option to overcrowding.

“You can determine that it won’t work, but you still have to complete the study,” the superintendent said. “Being a rural school, I think the transportation costs for having school all year long would be prohibitive.”

“The good news is that everyone involved has decided that we need to do something,” Tracy Caddell continued. “No one in the community has said ‘absolutely no’ with some regard to doing something.”