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Evansville school district studying possible land purchase

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GINA R. HEINE
December 16, 2007
— In the growing Evansville School District, officials have two questions to answer:

-- Should the district purchase land now to preserve for future building options?


-- What kind of land would give the district the most flexibility?


A land purchase doesn’t necessarily mean construction would soon follow, District Administrator Heidi Carvin said, but the buildings and grounds committee would like to find answers to those questions.


Given the conditions of the real estate market, it’s probably a great time to buy, board President Michael Pierick said. But knowing what kind of land to buy is affected by what type of building will be put on it, he said.


The district has an aging middle school and faces projected enrollment that would put a crunch at the elementary level.


Plunkett Raysich Architects in February presented estimates ranging from $31.7 million to $48.8 million for eight options after the firm projected the district will need more classrooms by 2011.


Enrollment figures used for the report estimate the district will grow by 142 students by the 2011-12 school year. Over the next 10 years, the district would increase by 316 students, or 18.3 percent.


Enrollment took a slight dip this fall, given the fact that new home construction slowed in the last year and a half, Pierick said.


“That actually buys us some time,” he said.


But it leaves the board to question which is more important—replacing the aging J.C. McKenna Middle School, 307 S. First St., or expanding at the elementary level, Pierick said.


“If we can avoid building anything substantial until the high school is paid for in 2021, that would be great,” he said. “That would be great for the taxpayers of the district and great for the district as a whole.”


Voters in 2000 approved a $25.5 million referendum that paid for renovations to existing buildings and construction of the new high school, which opened in fall 2002. Taxpayers also are working off debt from other school renovations made in 1992. Those will be paid off in 2012.


The district’s kindergarten through fifth grade levels are at two connecting schools—Levi Leonard Elementary and Theodore Robinson Intermediate—near the high school.


“The real decision for us as we’re growing is do we continue a centralized K-5 campus or split into two elementary campuses?” Carvin said.


She is researching how other districts in similar situations dealt with the issue and hopes to present her findings at the Jan. 17 buildings and grounds meeting. The board also will continue discussions at its regular monthly meeting Monday.


Enrollment in the next two to five years will play a big role, Carvin said.


This year’s official third Friday of the school year count—1,799—was only six students off from the projection, she said. The district gained about 10 students since then, she said.


More than 150 kids are on the kindergarten census for next year, considerably more than the 126 currently enrolled, she said.


“It’s a difficult problem to address,” Pierick said. “If we knew for sure what type of facility we were going to need a decade from now, then certainly we would know what type of land to buy.”


Click here to read about new home construction in Evansville

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