Money tops agenda for school board

PAT FRIDGEN

One portion of the $54 million renovation plan for Greencastle schools was under review by the school board May 6. Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover warned of the ideas presented, "This is just for conversation."

EI Associates had submitted a comprehensive plan to the district on Dec. 3 and last Thursday was the first time the board took a close look at the project. It was to be completed in three phases, with the first devoted to connecting the middle and high schools on both sides of the current walkway. That space would contain classrooms; a shared library, kitchen and two eating areas; an arts area; guidance, nursing and administrative offices; and a wrestling room. The primary school would be extended and the stadium renovated. The estimated cost was $33 million.

Phase 2, at $8.7 million, included renovations to the middle, high and elementary schools.

Phase 3, at $12.3 million, called for a field house, connected to the high school by an elevated walkway.

Hoover recommended starting with just the east part of the school connection. Up to 15 classrooms and also offices would be created. He suggested turning the outdoor walkway into a hallway so it would be easy to add the western addition later. He dropped the idea of a stadium and track, and primary school work for Phase I. The project would require moving the bus parking lot to the old tennis courts behind the high school.

Hoover estimated the cost would be $15 million or less.

Board president Arnie Jansen reiterated his concern from a previous meeting, wanting to determine how much they could afford. Kristy Faulkner added, "We need to say what we are willing to spend. What can they do with that? Maybe it will be something different than this."

Paul Politis and Joel Fridgen expressed interest in completing both sides of the connecting building at one time. They expected some financial assistance once the commercial base increased with pending industrial park development. Fridgen also wanted the athletic fields improved immediately and encouraged raising spectator ticket prices, low for the area, and student participation fees, lower than for community sports. The potential $400,000 in funds could be designated for athletic program expenses. He did not favor cutting any sports.

The architectural firm's estimate for building both the east and west sides of the connection was close to $19 million, approximating a 5.53 mill increase.

Eric Holtzman was concerned about the $54 million if everything was eventually done. "Expenditures are still behind revenue. I want to show taxpayers their bill at the end of the day."

Fridgen said he believed the citizens would support the building project to avoid overcrowding in the secondary schools, but saw a problem if operating expenses mandated another 5 mill increase. He saw a need for the district to make sacrifices in expenses.

2010-11 budget

The next fiscal year budget also received scrutiny. The preliminary budget was approved in April and will be finalized June 3.

Business manager Richard Lipella announced more changes he had achieved, bringing down the deficit from $1.57 million to $1.1 million.

Among the reductions in expenditures were removing the PSERS reserve, $160,000; removing refinancing savings, $343,317; taking advantage of an 18 percent reduction in workers compensation, $30,525; paying a $17,000 band uniform bill now though it is due next year; taking cost cutting measures in support services, $13,950; and finding salary and benefit adjustments based on retirements and resignations, $12,109.

"This is the most serious look we've given to the budget in the last 10 to 15 years," said Howard Ritchey.