Last year, Muncie Community Schools in Muncie, IN planned and budgeted for a number of projects in district buildings, with many focusing on HVAC repairs. Now, school authorities have received $9.5 million in revenue from a bond issue for building repairs and rehabilitation, but the district is hesitant to spend the money. In light of a recent in-depth report from architectural, engineering, financial and educational consultants, the Muncie Schools say that this amount isn’t enough to address all of the problems affecting the district’s schools.
Originally, the school board planned to spend $2 million on renovations for Central High School, $1.3 million on HVAC-mechanical system upgrades at Grissom Elementary, $1.2 million for HVAC-mechanical system upgrades for the Muncie Area Career Center, $1 million for HVAC repairs at Sutton Elementary, $911,854 for HVAC-mechanical system repairs at East Washington Academy, $962,513 for HVAC repairs and upgrades at South View Elementary, and $1 million for HVAC repairs and a swimming pool cover at Northside Middle School. The remaining $1.5 million was to be used for district-wide renovations, including roof repairs, improved security, lighting replacements and concrete, pavement and ramp repairs. However, the consultant’s report states that the district must close more schools instead of spending money on a building that is too damaged to be saved.
The choice for school closure will likely be Sutton Elementary School, a high-poverty school built in 1951 and added onto in 1977. Rated the worst of all of the district’s buildings, Sutton has a leaky roof throughout the school, no fire sprinkler, broken brick walls, frayed carpeting, original boilers and steam heating, a rusted water heater, open-concept classrooms that make lockdowns impossible, and other issues. The school board previously closed Wilson Middle School, a 213,000 square-foot facility built only 20 years previously.
The consultants reported that the Muncie School District cannot hope to raise enough money to complete all the necessary repairs without a referendum. But because the school corporation’s capital, debt, and transportation funds have been hurt by property tax caps, this referendum would likely only be defeated by voters, as a similar motion for transportation purposes was in the past. But the repairs can’t be left unfinished without the threat of more damage occurring to the already embattled district.
“The best time to upgrade HVAC equipment is during a renovation such as this one. More efficient HVAC equipment will pay for itself in decreased energy costs, especially when paired with other upgrades such as new windows, doors, insulation, or roofing,” says Rachel Zolfo of RCM Heating and Cooling. “In addition, old equipment can cause serious problems for the building itself, and the people who use it. A cracked heat exchanger in a forced air unit, a common problem in older heating systems, can cause excessive humidity that can lead to mold, and in some cases, can cause a carbon monoxide leak. Upgrading the HVAC system will help the district to save money in the long run, and protect the health of its buildings and their inhabitants.”
The consultants recommended keeping Central High School and the Muncie Area Career Center open, especially because a merger last year which combined Southside High School with Central High was well-received by the community. As a result, these buildings would likely receive updates first, while schools like Sutton linger in the background.
If the bond revenue money isn’t spent as it was originally planned, terms would allow the district to reallocate the funds to the repair and renovation of other schools.