MCS board OKs renovation plan

By David Fenker

NORTH MANCHESTER -- Squire Fieldhouse and its related safety renovation components are one step closer to becoming reality.

The Manchester Community Schools board of school trustees voted 4-2 to approve the $16 million project, which is estimated to cost around $26 million after interest.

Ruth Ayres, Brice Bedke, Steve Flack and Nathan Trump voted in favor of the project; Brian Schilling and Tim McLaughlin voted against moving forward at this time. Sally Krouse was absent.

With the board's vote, community members opposed to the project have 30 days to gather a petition of at least 500 signatures to bring the project to a referendum.

In a three-hour public hearing Tuesday, June 5, the board heard comments for and against the field house from several community members before voting.

Connecting everyone who spoke – community members, MCS staff and board members – was approval of the $1.15 million safety renovations to Manchester Elementary, Intermediate and Jr.-Sr. High schools, as well as a $400,000 new roof for Manchester Administration Office.

The point of contention for the community and the board was the 87,000-square-foot, $15 million Squire Fieldhouse, which proponents claim will attract visitors and residents to North Manchester in addition to further securing students by connecting MJSHS and MAO.

Opponents of the project often expressed support for the idea, but not the cost.

The project, still in its conceptual phase, will be funded through a property tax increase of 21.52 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, bringing the school's rate up to 97.38 cents from its current 75.86 cents.

According to financial advisor Umbaugh and Associates, that amounts to an increase of $70.48 per year after deductions for the average homeowner in the school corporation. Agricultural landowners and commercial property owners will face a larger increase: taxes on agricultural land are projected to increase $3.46 per acre annually, while commercial properties may face an increase of $215.20 annually on a property valued at $100,000.

After allowing an extra round of public comment during the hearing, board members went back and forth on the costs and benefits of the fieldhouse. One option, favored by community members present, was to split the projects: the board would issue bonds for the $1.15 million safety renovations, which would include adding an advanced manufacturing lab to MJSHS, and then would put the fieldhouse project to referendum and allow the community to make the final decision.
For Ayres, the decision was a difficult one, but one that was the board's responsibility.

“The way that I see it is this: the school is run by a board of trustees, and we were voted in to make a decision,” she said. “There is a beautiful project that we all love the idea of. When we look at the tax rate … it is still a reasonable tax rate. … The reason why I hear splitting it apart is because we want community input, and there's that check already in place.
“If we vote to go, there's already a check in place for the community to say, 'We want to vote, we want a bigger vote.'”

She continued, “To me, this is a bold move that a board of trustees makes, and going forward, in no way to me, is a symbol or a statement that we do not care about safety … we cannot depend on buildings and building projects for safety. … To me, as a board of trustees, that's what we're charged with.”

Board member Nathan Trump cast the deciding vote after brief deliberation.

“If we vote yes tonight, the public still has an opportunity to vote it down and get what they want … if they want to vote it down?” he asked. “I have heard so many different things from so many different people, and I understand all of their sides, and it makes it challenging for me to not have the community not have the ability to say no.”

“If you're telling me they have that,” he continued, “if I vote yes, I can carry a referendum and make sure it's on there so the community can decide. We can vote after that, if it gets turned down, we can save our security piece, we can do all that without the timing being affected?”

Timing, Trump said, was his biggest concern regarding the security renovations. The board was informed that, were it to allow the project to go to referendum, it likely would not go to vote until May 2019, leaving the entire project on hold for nearly two years as it moved from the referendum to design to construction.

In the end, Trump voted in favor of moving forward in order to allow the public to voice their opinion while not delaying any longer than necessary what many have deemed necessary safety improvements.

Should the community gather enough signatures in time to place the project on this November's ballot, and should the voters living in the school corporation vote against it, the board can almost immediately split the safety improvements from the fieldhouse and begin the process to issue bonds, allowing construction to be completed in the same timeframe (by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year) as if the community voted yes.

Should fewer than 500 signatures be turned in, the project will continue.

Presentations on both the engineering and financial sides of the project can be found at under the “School Board” page.

Posted on 2018 Jun 12