By Giavonni Nickson
The dawn of the new year marks a time to take a more in-depth look at Gary’s schools. On January 14 at the Gary Career Center, Emergency Manager Dr. Peter Morikis led a public forum to offer transparency on Gary Community School Corporation’s (GCSC) goals for the year. To the dismay of many attendees, there was no open Q & A allowed as typical of the community forums
The meeting was announced as a forum to discuss the district’s property sale of vacant schools. Still, most of the meeting time was spent with GCSC administration delivering 2min status updates on their departments along with 2020 goals. Many goals were expressed void of action steps and timelines.
The verbally noted list of challenges seemed to dim the glow of some departmental highlights.
During the meetings, last fifteen minutes, Morikis overviewed the school property sale list.
The district’s plans to sell the properties contrast Mayor Jerome Prince’s recent push for the demolition of multiple abandoned schools.
A few months ago, the body of a 27-year-old Portage woman was found abandoned in Norton Elementary School. This and similar incidents prompted questions from the community as to why the abandoned schools remain standing.
Heeding community outcries, Mayor Prince called for the demolition of the abandoned properties. The Prince administration, on January 2, told GCSC it wants demolition to begin by March on ten vacant schools.
The notice called out the school district for violating a city and state unsafe building law regarding blighted buildings that have become neighborhood crime lures.
During a press conference at Edison School, Prince asked the school district to answer the complaint at a hearing set for February 3 before Gary’s Building Commission at City Hall.
GCSC has 24 properties listed for sale, including Lew Wallace High School and Wirt-Emerson Visual & Performing Arts Academy, with seven in process for closing.
Horace Mann, Spaulding, Emerson, Ernie Pyle, and Chase are among those seven buildings.
The Gary Housing Authority recently made purchase offers on Emerson, Horace Mann, Spaulding, and Ernie Pyle, in addition to Vohr elementary and announced plans to develop affordable housing projects at the school sites.
Morikis said, Tuesday night, he is optimistic that all properties can be sold in a short window of time. According to Morikis, calls have been rolling in with bid requests for the 24 reaming schools.
The ten blighted schools in Mayor Prince’s demolition request are Emerson, Horace Mann, Edison, and Lew Wallace high schools and Norton, Ernie Pyle, Carver, Brunswick, Nobel, and Spaulding elementary schools.
If the district is found non-complaint, in violation of the unsafe building law, it would be positioned to absorb thousands of dollars in fines. The financial blow could rock the district with admitted economic challenges.
At the meeting, Tuesday night GCSC Director of Operations Matthew Howard spoke of financial challenges that hinder needed repairs in the district ranging from the gym floor to the roof.
Lisa Rosinko, who has been in her role as chief financial and operations chief for GCSC for eight months, spoke about past poor accounting practices in the district referring to the old system as “garbage in garbage out.” She said she is now spearheading initiatives to reduce bond debt payments and deficits and tighten internal controls
MGT Consultant Chelsea Whittington boasted of the district’s transparency, “Your voices are not ignored. Sometimes we need your help to get answers.”
Whittington said her implementation of monthly e-blasts, robocalls, and revamped social media channels will keep stakeholders updated with what goes on in GCSC.
Essential dates for GCSC’s real estate sale are:
- February 10: Purchase offers will be accepted until 3:00 pm and reviewed thereafter
- February 14: Buyers notified, finalize purchase offers, receive earnest money
- February 17: Closings scheduled – Chicago Title Company