Questions not allowed at community meeting as school officials say repair costs could be even higher
By Giavonni Nickson
At least $8.4 million is needed to repair the building that for nearly nine decades housed Gary’s storied Roosevelt College and Career Academy, according to the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) Emergency Management Team, who under pressure by concerned alumni for the first time held a community meeting to discuss the future of the historic structure since it was closed in February.
After nearly six months of no transparency, school officials painted a grim picture of the neglected building. However, officials did not present any public documents during the meeting. No names of professional contractors or the building’s insurer were given and no dates or times of assessments that officials claimed to have taken place were provided. Attendees were given three minutes to speak, but they were not provided the opportunity to ask questions.
This year’s polar vortex caused the building’s pipes to freeze and burst resulting in massive water damage. After being out of school for one week Roosevelt students were relocated to the Gary Area Career Center, (GACS) for the duration of the school year. Parents and students are now preparing for another school year at Gary Area Career Center but they remain uncertain about whether or not they will be able to return to Roosevelt.
During the community forum Eric Parish, representing the Gary Community School Corporation Emergency Management Team, presented a video walkthrough tour of the building that highlighted the damage to the original pipes, almost 100 years old. Marshall Emerson and the team from Edison also spoke. The video showed what appeared to be extensive water damage to the ceilings and floors, but the footage drew complaints from some in the meeting who said it was too dark.
While the issue of pipe damage has been a focus all year, Parish said deferred damage and neglected maintenance have also contributed to the current condition of the historic building. He said Roosevelt’s inhabitable condition is the result of years of deferred maintenance and neglect coupled with pipe damage from the February polar vortex.
In addition to pipe repair, Parish said damaged uni-vents must be replaced in every classroom. Parish said significant ceiling tile cleaning, air quality, and asbestos testing are also needed.
Parish said the building is insured for several hundred thousand dollars but could not give an exact amount. He said the insurance company will only pay for the percentage of damage that is solely the result of the polar vortex.
The insurance company cites significant pre-existing damage in the building with all the maintenance that was left undone, in addition to normal wear and tear.
Parish said an adjuster provided a preliminary estimate for insurance coverage. The estimate accounts for several hundred thousand dollars which is not nearly enough to satisfy the $2.5 million worth of repairs needed in order for the building to be habitable. It does not even come close to the $8.4 million of estimated total costs. Parish said that number includes $6 million in costs to find burst pipes that have to be ripped out of the walls.
Parish said it cost $10 million a year to operate GCSC’s 12 schools. He said property tax revenues generate only $2.5 million a year, leaving a $7.5 million shortfall.
The numbers created a sobering picture for some alumni, parents, and students of Roosevelt. They were given an opportunity to voice their concerns at the meeting.
Marshall Emerson, Regional General Manager Edison Learning referred to the damage at Roosevelt as a dilemma for the entire community.
“We did everything we could to keep the kids at their home campus.”
“We want to be back at the home campus. It’s a prideful place in the city and the state.”
Patricia Brown representing the Gary Historical and Cultural Society, said, “Roosevelt has been greatly neglected over the years. My home is 80 years old and Roosevelt is 90 years old. In my home there have been four owners, each of them doing repairs in order for things to look good for the next homeowner.”
Pauline Tatum, native of Gary and granddaughter of the late H. Theo Tatum who served as principal of Roosevelt HS, proudly boasted about her Panther Pride. She also expressed concerns about a perceived lack of transparency concerning the building.
“One concern that I have is communication with alumni.” She passionately addressed the Emergency Management Team, “Will you do a second walkthrough? Will you get the opinion of another mechanical engineer? The building is deteriorating and the history of Roosevelt is important, we are standing on the seeds of those who have fought for us.”
The historical significance and legacy cannot be denied, as Roosevelt was once one of only three all Black schools in the State of Indiana
This school is historical, said James Piggy, Roosevelt alum. “More professional athletes graduated from Roosevelt than any other school in the state of Indiana: George Talliferro, Willie Williams, Dick Barnett, Earl Smith, and the list goes on.”
The Panther Pride permeated the community forum as community members reminded members of the GSCC Emergency Management Team and Edison Learning to focus on what is best for the students.
Roosevelt alum Earl Smith, who spent 56 years working in the Gary Community School Corporation spoke out during the forum saying, “The most important thing to me is what I look at and call the holistic approach, the total development of our kids. There is no way possible that kids can receive what they are deserving of in this building. We have to put our kids in position to reach their potential.”
Preserving the Roosevelt building and serving the best interest of students was the heartfelt concern of many in attendance Tuesday night.
“I have mixed emotions, a part of me says yes what can we do to preserve the school, but we really have a bigger issue and it’s the education of our kids,” said Earl Smith.
“We all love Roosevelt. I look at my pictures on the wall, and even at this age, I’m happy to see them there.
“I firmly believe that whatever will transpire with the Roosevelt building will be a business decision that is above all of us,” said Chuck Hughes, Roosevelt alum and Gary Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. “I look at the benefit and the welfare of the students above everything else, including my passion for Roosevelt. If we want to really show that we are a community that loves our school and loves our children we have to start demonstrating that at every level.”
Parish said the next Gary Community Public Forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. on August 13, at the Gary Area Career Center.
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.