Gary Schools to spend $25M to fix dilapidated buildings
By Crusader Staff Report
West Side Leadership Academy will finally get a new roof under a plan from the Gary school district to spend $25 million to repair dilapidated school buildings.
On Friday, June 26 the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board unanimously endorsed a proposal by the district’s emergency management firm to delay repayments of several loans as part of House Enrolled Act 1065. The State Board of Finance approved the plan during a meeting Tuesday morning.
The state-controlled, financially struggling school district aims to take advantage of Indiana law that would allow the district to postpone some loan repayments to the state and use the money to repair or demolish its aging school buildings.
Under the plan, Gary schools would delay repayment on nine interest-free Common School Fund loans approved by DUAB to cover operating deficits since 2015. The terms of the interest free loans would be extended by 54 months.
District officials say the plan will free up approximately $480,000 each month for the next 4½ years, or about $25 million. The funds will be deposited in a School Improvement Fund that will solely be used to repair, renovate, or demolish existing school buildings in Gary.
Paige McNulty, the district’s emergency manager, Gary Schools Recovery LLC, a subsidiary of MGT Consulting Group, also won DUAB approval for an eight-phase program to spend the money. The tentative plan will reportedly have monthly oversight by DUAB and contracting goals for minority- and woman-owned businesses.
The first phase was reportedly set to begin July 1 when the district will begin replacing the roof at West Side Leadership Academy for $8 million. For years, the roof at the senior high school leaked during heavy downpours. Alumni and officials had complained about the problem for years as the leaks grew worse. Buckets were placed in the school’s library and several areas of the building to catch drops of rainwater. There are also plans to repair the West Side’s aging swimming pool, which had been closed for years because of numerous problems.
Teachers have complained that damage from the leaking roof at West Side have made five rooms and the library uninhabitable. They say Bailly Elementary school also has a leaking roof that causes two rooms there to remain uninhabitable. The complaints were documented in a May, 2020 proposal presented by Robert L. Coleman, 3rd District Advisory Board Representative of the Gary Community School Corporation.
The first phase also involves improving the boilers at Bethune Early Childhood Center and Gary Middle School, and rekeying locks in multiple buildings to bolster security. There are also plans this summer and fall to install a new playground at Beveridge Elementary School.
MGT reportedly agreed to prioritize hiring Gary, Lake County, or Indiana firms to complete as much of the work as possible for the projects.
Meanwhile, the school district is making plans to help students re-enter the classroom after the 2019-2020 school year was preempted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The district plans to offer both in-classroom and remote learning when classes begin in August. However, school officials say students will not be able to do both, because of a strict seating chart that will minimize coronavirus infections and enable contact tracing.