By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Members of the Teutopolis School Board are in a tricky situation.
While determining which direction to take regarding the future of the Teutopolis High School building, the board recognized the need for public input to decide which option the community supports.
However, the board also acknowledged its need to be careful not to open the flood gates, when trying to gage the temperature of the community.
As a solution, the board agreed to have Superintendent Bill Fritcher, along with board members Jim Buhnerkempe and Chad Hewing, develop a survey to collect the information the board needs to make an informed decision about the future of the building.
However, board members would like a very direct survey that focuses on the two options the board has discussed over the past year — tear down the 1929 section and build an addition; or renovate the 1929 addition.
Estimates have indicated both of the options are similar in cost.
Construction Project – this includes demolition of 1929 section. The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $3.29 million, with the second phase estimated at $2.81 million. The third phase cost, which is the construction of a hallway area to link areas together, would not be as certain because it would depend on materials the board wishes to use.
Renovation Projects — includes improvements to the 1929 section. The cost is estimated at $6.37 million, including over $1.2 million for ADA improvements.
“Rather than having them give us 40 different ideas, we need to narrow it down to the two options,” said board member Troy Ozenkoski of the survey. “As far as I am concerned, that is the only question. Do you want to save the old school or build an addition?”
Hewing agreed the survey needs to be very direct, adding that the survey needs to be available for community members to see before or during the community meeting, which the board plans to host in January so it can present the options to the public.
“If you don’t have the structure for the meeting, it is going to be a free for all,” said Hewing. “All the people who show up can answer the survey and give us more of a direction. Otherwise, that meeting is going to be a free for all.”
Concerns have been raised in the community about tearing down the old section because it is a historical building. Ideas have been discussed on how to preserve the history of the section, if it were to be demolished.
According to Fritcher, if the decision is to demolish the old section of the building, saving the front of the building could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
“I didn’t get a good vibe that it would be economical to do that,” added Buhnerkempe.
Additional suggestions to preserve the history included saving and incorporating elements from the front of the old section into the existing building or creating a monument to be used elsewhere on the school campus.
“If we can’t incorporate it into the building, we could find a way to keep it on site. It can be done tastefully,” said board member Leon Gobczynski.
The board also discussed traveling to other schools in the area — such as Arthur Grade School, Oakland High School and Paris High School — to see how they handled their additions and renovations.
“We need to get our heads out of Teutopolis, not that that will change anything. But we need to get out and look at what some other people have done, just so we have done our due diligence on this,” said Buhnerkempe. “If we are going to the public, it will be good to show that we have looked outside of the community and have seen what other schools have done.”
In regards to financing the project, the board is considering different sources, including a possible referendum on next November’s ballot.
The school district currently has $4.12 million in existing bonds, with a remaining debt capacity of $14.1 million, meaning the district is in a good position financially to issue new bonds.
The Teutopolis School District has a tax rate of $3.59, which is the lowest in the county compared to other school districts, according to Fritcher.
At a past meeting, the board indicated it would have $1 million in reserve accounts that could be used for the project, adding $5 million in bonds would need to be issued to cover the remaining costs.
At this time, no decision has been made in regard to funding.
Board members agreed the next step is to create the survey and set the date for the community meeting. Following the community meeting, the board will have the information it needs to determine which steps to take next.