Ttown School Project (web)

From left, Judy Bloemer, Phil Hartke and board member Gene Niemerg look over plans for the proposed options of the high school building.

By Kim Jansen

News Report Staff

Standing up in front of over 100 members of the Teutopolis community, Will Wortman admits he was a little nervous, and it took him some time to build up the courage to voice his opinion during the community meeting regarding options for the high school.

But, when it comes to the condition of the 1929 section of the Teutopolis High School, he certainly has an opinion.

He didn’t have to come to board meetings to learn about the conditions at the building, and he didn’t participate in any of the high school tours hosted by the board.

As a junior attending the school, he gets a first-hand look at the school — and how it functions — every school day.

“The old part of the building is really bad,” said Wortman during the community information meeting Monday night. “Our school doesn’t look nice. We need to leave behind what needs to be left behind, move into the future and make it a better place for future generations.”

Before he entered high school, Wortman heard many stories about the condition of the high school, so he had low expectations.

“I knew that it was bad, but when I got here, I was actually shocked about how much worse it was than they said,” said Wortman, adding he looks at other community schools in the area and wonders why Teutopolis couldn’t have the same.

With only a handful of people asking questions and voicing opinions, it was unclear how the majority of the audience felt about the options presented by the school board.

One member of the community, Rick Siemer, voiced concerns about the lack of options — most notably, the lack of a third option to do nothing.

During the meeting, the school board members presented information on two options for the school — the first option being to renovate the 1929 section and the second option being  to build a new classroom addition and demolish the 1929 section.

Siemer, who is a 1968 graduate of THS and served on the school board from 1979 to 1991, questioned why the board wasn’t presenting the option to do nothing.

Because funding sources would include a possible referendum where voters would vote “yes” or “no” to funding for the project, Siemer said it seemed the board would want to know where voters stood on the issue.

“Just as a matter of process, since the voters essentially have the option of saying do nothing or nothing big at this time, they ought to put this on the survey so the board can anticipate that,” said Siemer. “I have no idea what the outcome will be, but if 50 percent of the people say ‘do nothing,’ then I think that might prompt the board to take another look at this. It is wise to anticipate the possibilities.”

As a representative of a local business, Siemer does have concerns about increased property taxes that could result from this project, adding the Teutopolis Village Board is also discussing projects that could affect property taxes, like a new village hall and improvements to the sewer system.

“It is necessary to have a habitable school, but there are needs and there are wants,” said Siemer. “I certainly want to expand their resources as necessary to maintain that very good product. Is that buildings? Is that technology? Is that teachers? There is nothing easy about these decisions.

“Sometimes you can get yourself so focused on this is what I want to do that you tend to lose track of other considerations,” said Siemer.

Retired Teutopolis High School teacher Judy Bloemer, who graduated from THS in 1971, spoke on her experiences while teaching at the school.

“I taught on the third floor for many years, and there were fixes and repairs daily. There was always something wrong,” said Bloemer, who retired five years ago. “You guys need to go see this building and see how crazy it is.”

Bloemer believes it is time to tear down the old section and build the addition.

“Interest rates are going to go up, so they need to do something now, rather than just putting bandaids on the old part,” said Bloemer. “I taught in that old part of the building for years. It has way too many levels, and it is not efficient.

“I understand nostalgia, but if we can have new for the same money, that’s what I choose,” she added.

Teutopolis resident Laura Hemmen said it is time for improvements to the high school, but she believes that tearing down the 1929 building is not the answer.

“When we look at a community where there is little history left, we have to focus on keeping some of our history,” said Hemmen. “I know it is aesthetics, but I believe the integrity of our community comes from our history.”

Hemmen is in favor of renovating the 1929 section of the school, adding she hopes the public realizes that a renovation is much more extensive than a remodel.

“With a renovation, we could take the old building and make it shine again — make it brand new,” said Hemmen.

Hemmen also suggested a fourth option, which would be to take a look at the additions that were “patched onto” the back of the school.

“We could keep the architectural history of the first part, but take the back parts out,” she said. “I feel like we haven’t even talked about that as an option.”

Dick Hawickhorst, a local businessman, discussed the importance of keeping the building, referencing the decision he was a part of to tear down Society Hall. He also questioned the number of options, adding he felt the board was trying to push the option for an addition.

Teutopolis resident Dave Pruemer, who is a 1989 THS graduate and recently moved back to the community, said he has seen what other communities have been able to accomplish in regard to school buildings, and he hopes Teutopolis can do the same.

“We have great kids academically and athletically. They deserve a place that is up with the times and with other communities in the area,” said Pruemer. “We have great people in this community, and these kids deserve the best.”

Pruemer added schools represent that quality of life in a community.

“This problem isn’t going to go away,” he said. “If you have a good school, it is going to help your community continue to grow, and we can continue to be the great community that we have been for years.”

Over the past decade, conversations have been had regarding the future of the high school, particularly the 1929 section.

As a result, the Teutopolis School Board has been discussing options, working with an architectural firm and collecting financial information for the past year in an effort to determine potential options for the high school.

With an estimated cost of $6 million, the first option is a three-phase project, which would include the construction of a 9-classroom addition, the demolition of the 1929 section of the building, and the construction of an enclosed walkway to link the areas together.

With an estimated cost of $6.4 million, the second option is to renovate the 1929 section of the high school, which would include installing elevators and chairlifts to make the building handicap accessible.

Funding options being considered include Health-Life Safety Bonds and Building Bonds. The Sales Tax for Effingham County was mentioned, but board members agreed it does not appear to be an option at this time since the majority of Effingham County voted the proposal down last spring.

Following the community meeting, a survey was made available to determine their thoughts on the project, and most importantly, which option they believe is the best for the school district.

The survey and the slides from the community event are available on the district’s website at www.teutopolisschools.org and through the district’s social media sites.

Although the board has indicated through discussions at past meetings that it is leaning toward the option to construct a classroom addition, the board agreed that if the survey comes back in favor of renovating the 1929 section, they will honor the public’s wishes.

Superintendent Bill Fritcher encourages residents to review the information presented at the meeting and to fill out a survey.

Fritcher said the board will continue to look at this project, including the survey results, to conclude what is the best route for the district.

As far as a timeline, Fritcher said the decision could take some time.

“I would rather us be right, than be fast,” said Fritcher.