Plan includes additions, renovations, upgrades
$19M project for SR schools heard

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

“Never has quality education been more important than it is today.” The opening statement by South Ripley Board President Jim Miller met with positive response from the larger than anticipated crowd at the meeting to find out about the South Ripley building/renovation proposal last Thursday.

More than 200 people gathered at the elementary cafeteria to hear plans outlined by Hal Kovert of Kovert Hawkins Architects. The no frills proposal included renovations of the existing junior and senior high school, additions and upgrades coming in at an estimate of under $20M.

Miller noted that the money issue was something the board had closely watched knowing taxpayers would bear the burden. School officials have saved almost $3M that will be directly applied to the project bringing it under the $17M mark. Those in attendance heard that the impact to property owners would be about $8.00 a month for those with a home valued at $100,000. Agricultural property would be impacted at a maximum of $2.14 an acre. The increase would begin in 2009 and decrease each year thereafter.

Referring to unfunded stated mandates, Miller noted that more requirements are put on schools today than ever before. While South Ripley and Jac-Cen-Del school officials, members of the community and staff met in numerous meetings over the past two years looking at consolidation, in the end that was not an option. South Ripley’s board then began looking in earnest at what they could do alone. They, along with experts in the field, came up with the proposal, hoping to minimize the tax impact and maximize education opportunity for students at the same time.

“If we fail, an entire generation of students are at a competitive disadvantage,” noted Miller, as he introduced Hal Kovert, who gave the overview to those attending the meeting. “Talk. We’ll Listen,” were the first three words - important words Kovert introduced the plan with.

He gave the design for the school saying they had been working on the plan for several months. The problem of having a 40-year-old facility that is in bad need of upgrades, coupled with the fact the middle school students are currently mixed with the high school students, was noted. One mission would be to segregate the middle school students to an area that would be their own. The new plan calls for a middle school wing, that would accomplish just that. It would see 14 additional classrooms, a separate entrance for the students, with the only ‘shared space’ being a media center. While the space would be shared, it would not be shared at the same time as the high school students, and they would not interact. The middle school wing would be in the area of the present cafeteria. A new cafeteria, kitchen would be constructed.

Other important factors include the need for increased security at both the elementary and junior/senior high school, a state of the art science and media center, a gymnasium that would accommodate graduation exercises as well as games. The option of continuing to use the Tyson Gym is not available after the present lease is up, which will be in 2008. Kovert noted the expense attached to the lease and said that money would be better spent on the new facility. A new Ag shop and maintenance area will be constructed, along with expanded parking. The present property has enough space to make a drive on the south side of the building that could make a complete loop around the school.

A fitness and weight training room was mentioned with good response from the crowd. It was noted that the state is placing more emphasis on ‘wellness’ than ever before. A lady in attendance agreed and said the problem of obese children lingers into their adult life, causing many health issues that in turn cost the taxpayers more.

A small addition will be made at the elementary school to accommodate the state’s mandate for all day kindergarten. There will be four additional kindergarten classrooms on the southeastern corner, along with space for Title I Tutorial.

Kovert told the crowd the needs for the school corporation are immediate. He noted that a remonstrance would only increase the cost in the end and delays would hurt the students. “This is your school, your community...this needs to be a facility you’re willing to support,” he noted.
When the floor was opened to those in the audience, some questions were asked, such as “How much would an entire separate middle school facility cost? Would additional staff be needed? Are there any state grants to fund the mandates? What about local funds? Could we get a swimming pool? Where are the non-diploma students in the plan?

One by one the questions were answered to the best of the school board and superintendent’s ability. They said they felt with the need for a gymnasium, renovations and upgrades at the high school, the option to build a separate middle school would drive the costs up significantly. This would also create the need for additional staff. The school has researched every avenue they know about to obtain grants and have some in the works, according to Superintendent Ted Ahaus. A swimming pool that would allow area students to participate in a swim team was popular, but in the end, the feeling was a science lab would be more beneficial and could taxpayers afford both?

Jeanette Mattingly was concerned about special education children’s role in the new project. “Why does my son have to be bussed to Milan?” she asked. “Where are the non-diploma track kids in this plan?” Miller told her the details of the plan have not been worked out. Ahaus noted that space is being added and could be used in a variety of ways. Miller told her, “I promise you, we will consider your request.” She thanked him saying one in every 150 children are autistic. “These are the little ones who can’t do for themselves.”

Retired teacher Patsy Holdsworth received thunderous clapping when she stood to her feet and stressed, “Let’s do something...we have waited so long.” Others echoed her plea, with David Chandler from Cross Plains saying he thought the plan was reduced to meet the needs. He said, “It’s not easy to ask people to spend their money.” He followed with, “You don’t need a swimming pool.” While the pool was a dream for some, it wasn’t considered an immediate need.

Miller agreed with Chandler, saying a lot of people live on a fixed income. He said the board really tried to consider everything at hand and come up with the best plan for all involved.

Could Tyson Gym be purchased? It could, but the ramifications of making it compliant with state regulations would exceed the budget that could be afforded by taxpayers when compiled with other needs for the school. School officials and architects explained they have tried to come up with a comprehensive plan that would take care of all of the immediate needs, while looking somewhat into the future.

Copies of the overview that were presented at the meeting are available at the superintendent’s office in Versailles. “Everyone in attendance might not have a copy, since we didn’t anticipate such a great crowd,” Superintendent Ahaus noted. However, he wants everyone who wants a copy to have it. Included in the handout are: Learning Plan Conclusions; Changes in Educational Environments; Schematic Designs depicting additions and renovations; costs broken down, Tailored Lease Payment Option; Debt Service and Capital Project Fund Impact; Property Tax Impact; Project Timeline and more. You can also access the plans at the school’s website at:

If no remonstrance is filed, the school could take full possession of the completed project in August of 2009. The gymnasium would be available for use in November of 2008, and kindergarten classrooms would be available in August of 2008.

School officials were told publicly they had done an excellent job of addressing the needs. Miller told the crowd, “We need to know where you stand.” He asked for a show of hands from those who were in favor of what they had seen. Overwhelmingly, the hands shown were in favor.

Patsy Holdsworth, who taught, along with her husband Gary, at South Ripley schools for more than 30 years, stood and vocalized, "We need to do something." Those in attendance clapped in response to her statement. There were more than 200 people in attendance at the meeting held last Thursday, April 12 at the South Ripley Elementary School cafeteria, to hear about a proposal to upgrade, renovate, and add on to the existing school facilities.