School board members blunt about office move

Members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees used – in their description – “blunt” words at their meeting Monday, Nov. 27, when discussing where the district’s administrative central office will move.

When the smoke cleared, the board came to a unanimous decision to use space at Salamonie Elementary School as a temporary location for the office. However, how long it will need to be there is uncertain, projected at between six months to more than three years.

Superintendent Randy Harris told the board that he could not find a suitable location in the Huntington area for the office to move, as it makes way for the refurbishing of the Horace Mann Education Center back into an elementary school for the next school year. He said the district needs between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet of space for the office, which would house 15 to 20 staff members.

The current location at Horace Mann includes offices for occupational and physical therapy, special education, alternative education, training rooms, conference rooms, a records room and the school board meeting room.

“One thing that I think is important is that all members of Central Office be located in one location,” Harris said. “I know a number of years ago it was split between a couple of locations.”

Harris said leasing space would cost between $8 and $12 per square feet. At a minimum cost of $96,000 per year, that option would be cost prohibitive. Other options include settling into cramped quarters at Huntington North High School or the Administrative Service Center, which is now used by the maintenance and technology departments. His recommendation to the board was to build a new office, centrally located in Huntington, possibly on land at the high school or Crestview Middle School.

“I think we – meaning myself, Central Office, the board – we need to make a commitment to finding a permanent location for Central Office,” he said. “In the long-term outlook for the school district, I think it’s important to have a location that we know is going to serve the needs of the school district, the staff and most importantly the students, and not a temporary fix that’s going to move to another temporary fix to another temporary fix.”

Board President Mathew Roth said he doesn’t favor using the high school as a location for the administrative offices, and renting space is too expensive. Roth and Board Member Kevin Yarger looked at Salamonie, and it appears to be the best available space that the office can move into the quickest, he said.

Dana J. Wannemacher, president of the architectural firm Barton-Coe-Vilamaa, told the board that the cost for converting and ventilating the space at Salamonie Elementary would depend on how much privacy the staff will need. Currently there are eight distinct offices in addition to “bullpen” office spaces at Horace Mann. He estimated that conversion costs at Salamonie could cost as much as $750,000.

Roth said in order to vacate Horace Mann quickly a temporary solution would have to do, or the school may not be converted back into an elementary school in time for the 2018-19 school year.

Board member Brian Warpup agreed that Salamonie would be the best temporary solution, but alternative school will have to go somewhere else. He added the board could continue to meet at Horace Mann until school begins next year. He said the central office staff will need to adjust to the new location.

“This isn’t intended to be permanent,” he said. “In this whole process … we just impacted 600 families in the school corporation. If it takes 15 minutes to drive, so be it. I do it, every day.”

Yarger said he was disappointed with how the discussion was going on the issue, especially with converting areas of Salamonie School into office space.

“I’m quite disappointed that this conversation is always about how the spaces we have won’t work. I never once heard a conversation as to how to make the space work,” he said. “I have no interest spending a ton of money at Salamonie. I think it’s silly. Do we must have carpet in the rooms? Yes. But the teachers use the tile floors every day and they work just fine.”

Board member Reed Christiansen said he also had some “blunt” words about the issue and the length of time needed to solve it.

“If it goes longer than it should, that’s our fault,” he said. “I hope this board has shown that it is willing to make decisions and move in a direction that’s best for the school corporation, and continue to do that.”

Other plans call for selling the Lancaster and Northwest Elementary properties as soon as possible, Harris said.

On another item of discussion, a new Roanoke Elementary School has received the go-ahead for construction, after no remonstrance was filed on a bond issue, clearing the way for construction of the new school building as well as improvements to the high school.

Harris also confirmed that letters will go out to parents before Christmas break informing them of which schools their children will attend in the 2018-19 school year.

A redistricting timeline document is now available at www.boarddocs.com/in/hccsc/Board.nsf/Public, located in the Nov. 27 regular board meeting detailed agenda documents.

In other business, the board unanimously agreed to give pay raises to classified staff. Harris said the raises will amount to 2 percent, 3 percent or 4 percent, based on individual employee evaluations.