Renovation work continues at local schools

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August 14, 2014 – Carmen McCollum

The largest school renovation project in Northwest Indiana continues in the Lake Central School Corp., where voters in the district approved a $160 million construction referendum in 2011.

The district went directly to residents to ask for a tax increase to fund major renovations at Lake Central High School and construct a new building for Protsman Elementary School. Lake Central serves about 9,800 students, including more than 3,200 at the high school.

Lake Central Superintendent Larry Veracco said three-quarters of the money is being spent at the high school. Contractors began work in June 2012 and divided the project into phases. The first consisted of the high school academic wing, which stands three stories high and houses about 100 classrooms, a 50-meter competition swimming pool and locker rooms.

The second phase, now underway, includes building a fine arts band area, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a large media center, black box theater, a large competitive gym, a wrestling room and administrative offices.

The current administrative office building will be demolished and become part of the parking lot. Central office staff will move into the freshman wing at the high school. When all the work is complete, the new high school will be 875,000 square feet.

Veracco said phases two and three overlap but all the renovation that will benefit students should be complete by 2015. “The district’s special education administrative team also will be in the same administrative office wing, rather than being housed at Hohman Elementary where they are currently housed. It will benefit us to have them right next to us and it will give Hohman an extra two or three new classrooms,” he said.

At Protsman, the final cleanup and landscaping is being done at the new school building. A grand opening is set for Sept. 28.

Other districts preparing facilties

While there are no other projects of that magnitude underway at other region school districts, there are smaller projects.

Highland Superintendent Brian Smith said workers are finishing up some work on the school cafeteria. “We did some roofing work, boilers and chillers last year and paid for that through the capital projects fund. We may need to go to a construction referendum at some point. We may also have to do rewiring at some buildings in the next three years,” he said.

Bishop Noll Institute President Paul Mullaney said the school building is 52 years old and workers needed to bring the restrooms up to date and they installed new ceiling tiles. This year the school anticipates about 508 students in grades nine through 12.

The Hanover Community School Corp. held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 8 for its new $1.7 million tennis complex. The complex, on high school property, includes nine new tennis courts, new lights on the tennis courts, a soccer field, a press box and public restrooms.

Hanover Superintendent Tom Taylor said overall they have five projects at a total cost of about $8 million, which include repair and maintenance at secondary schools, work on the boilers and water heaters, upgrading the plumbing, some roofing work at the high school, upgrading plumbing and boilers and HVAC system and improving athletic facilities. In addition, the district is redesigning and installing new playgrounds at both elementary schools.

Retiring Hebron Superintendent George Letz said all the school buildings are in good shape, having upgraded the three buildings over the last 12 years. He said there were major renovations at the elementary and middle school building in 2005.

Hammond buildings and grounds director Diane Schweitzer said the district has completed a variety of upgrades at different buildings. She said students in the building trades class constructed a new ticket booth for Clark Middle/High School. Eggers Middle School is in phase two of its track remodel and is installing spectator bleachers on the east side of the newly constructed track, which opened in September 2012 and provides athletic events for Eggers’ students as well as Hammond High students. Franklin Elementary School has a new playground including slides and a monkey bar. The old playground has been removed and will be refurbished for use in another location. Classrooms have been renovated, additional furniture was purchased and other upgrades were performed at the Morton High School Performing Arts Academy.

Gavit Middle/High School has undergone improvements to the school building including five science rooms, one computer lab, one special education room and a social studies room. Improvements also include new ceiling tile, floor tile and lighting. Schweitzer said the carpeting was replaced in the student and faculty dining rooms and the band room underwent a major renovation with removal of the risers and installation of new floor and ceiling tile. Schweitzer said the cost of the work is approximately $2.5 million.

Water storage tanks were removed from the boiler room at Gavit and new hot water heaters, storage tanks and a backflow-preventer was installed. Schweitzer also said furniture and cabinetry was replaced throughout the building.

Porter Township School Corp. Superintendent Stacey Schmidt said they renovated the culinary arts room and are excited to unveil it to students this year. “We are part of the Porter County Career Center, and we host the culinary arts program in our building,” she said.

New Valparaiso Superintendent Ric Frataccia said no construction is underway right now, but school leaders are talking to the community about the possibility of a general fund referendum, which would support the general fund budget, which mostly pays for salary, benefits and a few programs, and a construction referendum, which would cover the cost of new construction and building renovation.

“We are still talking to the community and getting their input,” he said, adding the most recent meeting was Aug. 14.

“We are going to put together something conceptual that people can respond to. Hopefully, that will begin the process of moving to a referendum next spring or fall. After we put a plan together, there will be more community meetings to get reaction to the plan,” he said.

Before his position as assistant superintendent in Portage, Frataccia previously worked in the Valparaiso Community Schools and is familiar with all the buildings. “My walk through the schools indicated that all of the schools need a considerable amount of renovation. The mechanical, electrical, technology and infrastructure need to be upgraded. The HVAC system needs quite a bit of work, then there is the possibility the community brought up of a new elementary building south of U.S. 30. The district owns some property along Havelin Road,” he said.

The Gary Community School Corp. needs a minimum of $6.5 million in repairs to its buildings. It closed five schools last year and will open the school year with 11 buildings. Gary school Facilities Director Charles Prewitt said several buildings need roof repairs, painting, new ceiling tile and boiler repairs. As of Aug. 8, none of those repairs had begun, and the school district continues to wrestle with a $23.7 million deficit.