Demands for documentation and second walk-through at community meeting, but emergency manager remains silent about it
By Erick Johnson
Residents and alumni of Gary’s storied Roosevelt College and Career Academy on Tuesday, August 13 stepped up demands for transparency from the state-controlled Gary Community School Corporation at a community meeting where they grilled Emergency Manager Peter Morikis on the future of the school’s historic building.
Full of passion and questions, the room came alive as residents demanded to see documentation of assessments, and estimates, after the state last month said that it will cost $10 million to repair Roosevelt’s aging building that was closed in February due to an aging boiler system.
More than 500 students were forced to attend classes at the Gary Area Career Center where they again started the new school year last week.
Residents also demanded that the Gary construction company Powers and Sons, conduct an independent walk-through of the building after the state-controlled GCSC showed a video walk-through of Roosevelt. That video was heavily criticized because the footage was too dark and none of the walk-through participants were Roosevelt alumni or Gary residents.
In that same building Tuesday evening Roosevelt alumni, in their school colors, asked hard questions of Morikis as he stood alone and silent at times in a meeting where unlike last month, no other state official or emergency management team members were present.
During that July 16 meeting, Morikis did not speak, but Eric Parish, of MGT Consulting, which works with the emergency management team, painted a grim picture of the building’s future, saying it would cost at least $10 million to reopen it.
But Parish’s presentation did not include any documentation of repair estimates and the Crusader raised questions as to how he and state officials came up with such a high amount. Still, Roosevelt alumni and residents were silent at the meeting and some, despite the absence of documentation, were convinced that the building was too costly to save.
The mood was different this time around, where residents and alumni were more vocal in expressing their frustration while stressing the need to reopen Roosevelt’s building for the sake of students’ future, and culture identity. Still, no detailed documentation of the GSCS was presented.
Morikis spoke privately with some of the attendees after the meeting.
One of them was Roosevelt alumna Pauline Tatum, who for the second time in a month traveled from Texas to attend the meeting.
“I’m not happy,” Tatum said. “I applaud you for the improvements you made with the Gary Community Schools, but we still have a problem with Roosevelt. Why can’t we have Powers and Sons come in and do a second walk-through [of Roosevelt building]. Why can’t we have the documentation so as a community you and I can work together? I don’t want to work against you. I want to work with you. As far as the estimates, where is the documentation? It doesn’t make any sense.”
One woman who is a Roosevelt alumna, 1978, works with students at the Gary Area Career Center. She said it’s a “task” every day to instill pride in students while they are away from the shuttered building. She said she sees the building falling into disrepair each time she runs on the school’s track behind the building.
“I have a concern about the building,” the woman said. “It’s like your body. If you don’t use it, it will die. The building is dying. I see darkness. I can’t let that happen, not on my watch.”
Robert Buggs, president of the GCSC Advisory Board, said that it would be “unfair” to not get another estimate on the building’s condition before making a decision.
“In all fairness I think you should listen to the public, have Powers Construction Company to assess that building to provide another estimate.”
After hearing calls for his company to conduct a second walk- through of the shuttered building, Mamon Powers, Jr., Chairman and CEO of the construction firm, Powers and Sons, spoke before Morikis.
Powers said with a building as large as Roosevelt, it’s not unreasonable to estimate that it will cost $10 million in repairs. But Powers said he will be “happy” to do a walk-through of the building to see whether repairing the damage will cost that high.
Morikis did not respond publicly to the demands for a second, detailed professional walk-through of the building and documentation of the GCSC $10 million estimated cost to repair the structure. Morikis did say more community meetings will be held to gather public input and asked for “patience” from Roosevelt alumni and residents as they continue to address problems facing the building’s future. The dates of those future meetings were not discussed.
Morikis said one of the challenges the district faces is determining the necessary repairs that will be covered by the building’s insurance, which is the Lexington Insurance Company located in Boston. Morikis also said he is working with the city and its building department to get a full occupancy permit.
Further, Morikis said he is committed to listening to the concerns about the future of Roosevelt’s historic building. “What I understand and what I hear are the thoughts and passions and the emotions behind the questions, thoughts and concerns. I take those thoughts very seriously.”
In addition, Morikis said he is researching opportunities to obtain special grants that would help cover the cost of repairs. However, questions remain as to how the state used a $500,000 grant that retired state Senator Earline Rogers obtained for Roosevelt from the state in 2016.
CORRECTION: In our print edition, the Crusader reported that the $500,000 grant was given by the state in 2018. The grant was given in 2016.