No Opposition To District 1 School Construction

No one spoke in opposition to a proposed $20 million school renovation at Austin when the Scott County District 1 board of trustees met Monday, April 15.
The public hearing was the first of two required by state statute to seek school patron’s input into any school building project.
The preliminary plans call for razing the 1936 brick gym & elementary classrooms as well as the two 1950’s era single story classrooms. Additionally, the school board wants to remove the indoor swimming pool at Austin High School, which was constructed in the early 1980’s, and replace it with a multi-purpose area. That multipurpose area will, in part, take the place of the elementary gym as well as be used by middle and high school students for a variety of purposes, school officials said.
“The board and I agree that the proper course of action is not to fix 60- and 80-year old buildings but to build new,” school superintendent Trevor Jones told the crowd.
During the public hearing, Mike Therber of the Indianapolis based financial consulting firm Therber Brock, told those at the meeting that there are two methods of financing a school construction project.
The state Common School Loan fund is available at 4% interest with a 25-year repayment schedule, Therber said, adding that the Common School Loan rate is not changed in a considerable length of time and is not expected to any time soon.
“The maximum loan per year is $15 million so if we decide to go that route the financing would need to be in two phases to pay for a $20 million project,” he said, noting that CSL funding is approved on a first come-first served basis
Therber said the alternative method of financing is through a bond issue. “Currently, bonds are being purchased at 3.5% but those rates fluctuate more than the Common School Loan,” he said.
There are additional costs for advertising and selling school bonds.
“Which method to use could be a ‘game time decision’ as the project moves forward,” he advised the board.
Jones told the crowd that the project will result in a debt service (the fund from which school mortgages and loans are paid) tax rate increase.
The current school debt tax rate is just under 80-cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Jones said that the tax rate could go to $1.15 temporarily.
“But with the middle school construction loan being paid off in a couple of years, by 2022 we anticipate tax neutrality (dropping back to around 80 cents) after that,” said the superintendent.
Elementary Principal Beverly Turner told the crowd that “in dealing with very, very old buildings, our staff has changed, our education programming has changed, our technology has changed but the buildings have not.”
The 1950’s California style classrooms require students to go outside for everything, she said. Adding that in the current social environment “Controlled access is very important; it is about keeping our students safe,” said Turner. “It’s about our kids. A single elementary school building will make for a safer, stronger school community.”
Several school patrons spoke in favor of the project.
“Our most important asset is our school system,” said Staci Mullins. “It brings our citizens together.”
Tracy Spencer told the crowd, “Security and safety of kids is a concern. It’s difficult to control access (at the elementary). Where we are now is 30 years behind,” he said. “This is a good project.”
The school board heard presentation from two architectural firms: Kovert Hawkins of Jeffersonville and Lancer+Beebe of Indianapolis.
Both firms in explaining their preliminary designs said they could be changed to suit the school’s needs and the board’s vision.
Both firms said they have completed projects for southern Indiana School systems.
Lancer+Beebe has done work for Switzerland County, Indian Creek, and Scott County School District 2 in nearby Scottsburg.
Kovert Hawkins has completed school project designs for Silver Creek, Madison, Salem, West Washington, Brownstown, Medora and nearby Crothersville. Additionally, the firm designed the Austin Library, Lexington Library, Wesbanco Bank in Austin and the new John Jones GM dealerships in Scottsburg, Salem and Greenville.
Jones said that it is the school board’s desire to select an architect by the end of May or early June. Any construction on a project would not begin until May 2020, he said
A second public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 20, at the administration building to receive additional public comments.