School board rolls up sleeves in Saturday meet

Members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees rolled up their sleeves and went to work Saturday, Aug. 25, in a special public work session to address major renovations at Huntington North High School.

Meeting in the high school’s media center, HNHS Principal Russ Degitz, along with representatives from law firm Ice Miller, financial advisor Umbaugh & Associates and architectural firm Barton-Coe-Vilamaa joined the board to talk about the repairs and changes needed to bring the facilities up to snuff.

Superintendent Randy Harris said that a year ago, plans were made to make renovations using $38 to $40 million in bond money that would be split between building a new elementary school in Roanoke and using the remainder for a list of needs at the high school.

“As we’ve gotten into it we’ve realized that we’ve got a lot bigger issue than can be taken care of just with the $18 to $20 million,” Harris told the board. “Our physical structure does not meet the academic needs of a comprehensive high school in 2018.”

He said academically the building is not conducive to the way students are being taught today, as compared to when the building was designed in the 1960s. The current organization of the school is not optimal to what the administration would like to see and with smaller enrollments, the capacity of the school also needs to be readdressed.

Structurally, the nearly 50-year-old high school was built with movable walls, some of which have sand in them, Harris said. Many of the walls have rusted and have been removed. The building’s roof, which is comprised of two layers, is worn out and there are multiple leaks throughout the building, which are nearly impossible to fix. He added it would take about four years just to replace the approximately 6.5 acres of roof surface on the academic building.

In addition, HVAC is at the end of its useful lifespan and needs to be replaced, as well as plumbing and electrical, including converting to LED lighting.

Currently, the gymnasium is getting new bleachers, new lighting is being installed in the fieldhouse and new seating is being installed in the auditorium. Harris said that work is being paid for out of existing funds.

Harris also addressed safety and security issues at the high school with the board, saying doors must be reworked to limit accessibility to the building’s interior. Outside, upgrades need to be made to Kriegbaum Field, the tennis courts and other outdoor athletic facilities.

He included improving facilities for the performing arts, including upgrading ancillary areas to the auditorium such as adding band or choir rooms and dressing rooms.

How to address those needs was also a point of discussion, as well as whether to renovate existing structure or build new structures.

“Where do we get the best bang for the buck? What is best for the long-term decision?” Harris asked. “What’s going to get this building or this site or this high school – what is going to get us another 40 or 50 years? What is going to be best for our kids, not for just in the next three or four years, but let’s look out for the long-term and make the decision based on that.”

Budget options presented for renovations to existing structure include:

• $34-$45.5 million – Renovate south classroom block. ($5.5-$6.4 million for Science, Food Service and Physical Plant.)

• $6.5 million – Roof at South classroom block.

• $3-$3.5 million – Auditorium renovation.

• $3.5-$5 million – North Arena renovation.

• $1.75 million – Parking and drives.

• $350,000 – Tennis courts.

• $3.1-$4.35 million – Kriegbaum Field.

The estimated cost of building new structures:

• $80.5 million – New building and site.

• $14.5 million – New facility-athletics.

How to pay for the projects was another issue. Harris said there is $18 to $20 million from the current bond to pay for projects in the foreseeable future. A debt paid off in 2023 will free up other tax structures, he said. A referendum could also give the school corporation permission to pay for projects with exempt bonds, but will impact the tax structure, said Todd Samuelson of Umbaugh & Associates.

The remainder of the more than two-hour meeting focused on the best way to spend the bond money the corporation has now, and what priorities the board needs to set to make the best decisions moving forward in renovating the high school.

“It’s always interesting and so exciting to be able to talk about doing some things for this high school and the people that trust in us,” said board member Tim Allen. “We’re not really sure where to spend all the money and how to do it the best possible way we can.”

Board member Brian Warpup said safety issues weighed most importantly on his mind in renovating the high school.

“As we start thinking about this, then multiple parts of the building start to change,” he said. “That’s one of the physical aspects for me, is where is the front door?”

Architect Dana Wannemacher of Barton-Coe-Vilamaa said so many issues have been neglected at the high school that they are all at a critical stage.

“You can only fix those things so many times,” he added. “It’s really hard for me to sit here and tell you which one is most important.”

Wannemacher added he thought that it would cost as much to renovate the high school as it would to build a new facility.

Degitz said high schools in nearby smaller communities have surpassed HNHS in many ways, such as their athletic fields, using Kriegbaum Field as an example. The stadium was built in 1937.

“It’s more than just football in the fall,” he said. “We also utilize it for track and field in the spring depending on potential future layouts we could use it for soccer in the fall. So truly, it could be a three sport, three season facility for us … I could absolutely foresee our PE classes, some of our more academic-focused programs within the school day utilizing that facility.”

Board member Reed Christiansen said that with the high school being so old, something needs to be done to bring the facility to modern standards.

“It’s time,” he said. “Our question is prioritizing.”

No action was taken during the work session. Board President Matt Roth said the public is welcome to address any questions they have and come tour the high school campus to view the needs talked about during the work session.