HUNTINGTON, Ind (WANE 15) — Huntington County residents will see two education referendums for Huntington County Community Schools on the ballot this November. The first asks whether more than $68 million over a 17-year period to help build a new Huntington North High School. The second asks whether $1 million should be spent over the next 8 years to improve incoming teacher pay and security.
“This is a need, not a want,” Huntington County Community Schools Superintendent Chad Daugherty said. “It has to happen for the health and safety of our students.”
After months of discussion and community meetings, the school corporation and board in July approved the questions to appear on the November ballot.
The money would come from an increased property tax. For Huntington County residents, it would be a 33 cents increase per $100 of NET Assessed Value for the project referendum for Huntington North High School and an increase of .06 cents for the operating referendum to help with teachers pay and security.
The Huntington County Community School Corporation held community meetings to discuss the referendum. Below are the slides from that presentation that explains what the new tax would do to residents of Huntington County.
Huntington North High School is the only high school within the school system and the county. The high school opened its doors to students in October 1969 and has more than 7 1/2 acres under its roof. Currently, 1,475 students are enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year.
While the school is 50 years old, it’s only had minor updates throughout the years.
A gymnasium was added in 1975. After the blizzard of 1978 damaged the roof, a second roof was placed over the existing roof in 1983. Three years later, the science wing was added on. The physical fitness complex was added in 2003.
The original building has not been renovated or changed in 50 years.
Walk into the school and you can see stained titles on the ceiling and fans in the hallway trying to keep the building cool. Officials say the original HVAC system, which is as old as the school, is unreliable. Parts are no longer made for the system, so when it fails, some classrooms can climb to 80 to 85 degrees. When it rains, the roofs leaks, causing water to drip from the ceiling into classrooms and hallways. The walls of some of the walls within the school are only 2 inches thick, which causes a security issue within classrooms. The sizes of classrooms are 450 to 720 square feet, smaller than the state’s recommendation of 900 square feet.
Head Custodian Jim Frye has been with the high school for 20 years. Over the years he says he’s seen lots of changes but what hasn’t are the growing problems with the building.
“It’s frustrating because we do the best we can,” Frye said. “We try to keep up with changing ceiling tiles but as long as you have leaks you’re going to have problems in the ceiling tile. However, we have tried to help that situation by putting garbage bags so that the water that does get into that area will drip on that and evaporate.”
A recent air quality test conducted at the high school found high carbon dioxide and humidity, far higher than the recommended limit. The results left parents wondering if the school was safe for students. WANE 15 received messages and calls from concern parents who were also suspicious of the timing of the report.
“Is this building currently safe? Yes, this building is safe right now,” Daugherty said. “The HVAC system does not work appropriately and so we are trying to address those issues and if anything comes up we will address those issues. We’ve had other issues that have popped up maybe with a leak here or changing out a ceiling tile those things we have addressed.”
The corporation had $20 million left from the construction of Roanoke Elementary School that will be combined with the $68 million from the referendum to go toward the Huntington North High School project. In total, the project would cost a total of $88 million.
If taxpayers vote ‘yes’ this November to the referendum, residents will pay the $68 million over a 17-year period. Daugherty says the school has taken on the compounded interest so taxpayers will only have to pay for 17 years.
This tax would not go into place until the project is completely finished in 2022.
“So what we have gone with is, tear down the academic wing, build a brand new to the north, two stories, less square footage for a roof,” Daugherty said. “Then (we’d) add two wings by Door 28 for performing arts and then add another wing on the other side of the auditorium which would be for our career and technical education classes. We are building around are renovated areas which are our field house, auditorium, and gym.”
The new building will also be handicap accessible and be easier for students to navigate.
Several in the community are upset with the idea of tearing down parts of the old school. According to the school system, though, renovating the old parts of the building would be $30 million more and construction would take longer.
School officials also said that in the long run, building new would be more efficient for taxpayers.
“If we build the two stories, students will not have to be displaced,” Daugherty said. “If we would decide to renovate the roof, take care of it, it is going to be 5 to 6 years. The students will have to hear construction the whole time, they will have to be displaced in portable classrooms and again that’s more expensive.”
Community members are also upset that it took school officials this long to address problems with the high school. Daugherty said that the corporation has the money to address these needs with the leftover $20 million from the Roanoke Elementary School project. The elementary school was over 90 years old, and once that project was underway, Daugherty and officials turned their attention to the high school.
Currently, there are no renderings for what the project might look like. Daugherty says they didn’t want to spend the thousands of dollars on the renderings until officials know the project is moving forward.
If the high school project referendum passes, the school will hold meetings to hear from residents, teachers, and students on the new project. Once school officials have ideas for the project they will then put the product to bid, allowing contractors to give the school an estimate of what it would take their community to build the project. The Huntington Community School Board would then pick the best offer and construction would soon follow.
When construction begins, the current sports fields may also change locations. Instead of being near U.S. 224, they would move to where the old part of the school was demolished.
When complete, Daugherty said the school should last another 50 years.
This is how the question will look on Huntington County residents’ ballots this November:
“Shall Huntington County Community School Corporation issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the 2020 Safety, Security, Replacement and Restoration Project, which includes the renovation of and improvements to Huntington North High School, and other related campus improvements, which is estimates to cost not more than 68,480,000 and is estimated to increase the property tax rate for debt services by a maximum of $0.3381 per $100 assessed valuation?”Department of Local Government Finance
The second referendum is a $1 million commitment residents will pay over the next 8 years. This referendum would be used for teacher retention, as well as safety and security.
Huntington Community Schools’ starting teacher salary is 34,500. With the current teacher shortage, school officials have found it hard to get teachers to their schools. Officials said Huntington County is the second-lowest paying school district in the area.
With the referendum, the corporation is hoping to be more competitive.
“We aren’t talking about the average salary here in Huntington, we are talking about the starting salary,” Daugherty said. “That’s what we need to address because we are all trying to fight for those great teachers.”
If the referendum passes, Daugherty hopes the school will be able to offer new teachers a starting salary of at least $37,000.
The tax would not increase current teacher salaries.
The district also hopes to add two resources officers in the district. One would be placed at Riverview Middle School and one at Crestview Middle School. Those two officers would also visit the elementary school in the district to help build a relationship with students. This would bring the total number of officers to three.
If the referendum passes, the tax will start in January of 2020.
This is how the question will look on Huntington County residents’ ballots this November.
“For the eight (8) calendar years immediately following the holding of the referendum, shall the Huntington County Community School Corporation impose a property tax rate that does not exceed six cents ($0.06) on each one hundred dollars ($100) of assessed valuation and that is in the addition to all other taxes imposed by the school corporation for the purpose of funding academic and educationally related programs, managing class sizes, school safety initiatives, and attracting and retaining teachers? “Department of Local Government Finance
Tour of Huntington North:
So should Huntington North High School get a new building? WANE 15 took a tour of the school with Superintendent Chad Daugherty to see just what upgrades it needs.
If the referendum does not pass, Superintendent Daughtery said the school will be in a similar situation to Columbia City High School.
“They tried to do a referendum several years ago and they did not get that,” Daughtery said. “Then they came back to do it again was more because the cost of construction went up. The cost of construction has gone up 4.5% every year for the last five years. So we don’t want to do that. We want to address it now before the cost goes up.”
We reached out to the Whitley County Consolidated School system and confirmed that the school system had tried to pass a petition to build a new school several years ago but it failed. Superintendent Dr. Patricia O’Connor said that when the community saw the need for a new high school, they rallied together to pass a referendum. Columbia City High School is scheduled to open their new school in August 2020, five years after the referendum passed.
Daugherty said Huntington North High School is safe. When leaks or other structural issues arise, school staff addresses those issues and fixes them to the best of their ability.
Whether the referendums pass or not, Daugherty said the community will have healing to do. His goal is to make sure residents have all the information about the referendums before they vote.
Huntington County residents can vote on the referendums now until Tuesday, Nov. 5.
To learn more about the referendums, the projects and how the new taxes could affect you, click here.