Bill to rehab, demolish and build future Gary schools passes Senate committee

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THE BUILDING THAT once was the Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved unanimously Senate Bill (SB) 416, authored by State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary). The bill would address several critical issues impacting the City of Gary and its school district.

The bill now moves to the Indiana House.

Under the proposal, the school district temporarily would postpone repayment of the $40.3 million it still owes Indiana’s Common School Fund for loans. Over the past decade the loans were used to cover operating costs after student enrollment dramatically declined in the Gary school district.

The district’s $500,000 per month in state loan repayments would instead be deposited in a “school improvement fund” that must be used for the demolition or rehabilitation of existing school buildings in Gary.

The Distressed Unit Appeals Board would decide the buildings on which the money is spent, based on the recommendation of Gary Mayor Jerome Prince.

“I know we still have issues to overcome, but this is a major step to make our city safer, provide our students with quality learning conditions now and in the future and increase property tax values for our community,” Melton said.

“I want to thank Mayor Jerome Prince and special counsel Tony Walker for their support of my bill in committee, and I look forward to working with the administration as this bill progresses.”

SB 416 would allow the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) to accomplish three specific goals: rehabilitate the schools where students are currently learning, demolish blighted school structures and properly secure vacant facilities.

The proposal would also provide a pathway to build a new central middle and high school, a project that Melton has been working on since taking office in 2016.

The debt the school corporation currently pays toward the Common School Loan would be suspended on a tiered structure for the next decade to free up $43.5 million for GCSC to fund these school improvement projects.

“Our children deserve the very best opportunity to learn in a healthy and safe environment,” Melton said. “SB 416 is a win-win for our community as it funds urgent projects this year without creating any debt. I am pleased that the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved this necessary next step for the future of Gary and the school corporation, and I will continue to work hard to see its passage through the rest of the legislative process.”

SB 416 now moves to the full Senate for further consideration.

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