Upgrades to Fairfield schools will expand student opportunities

The district will upgrade four buildings and construct a new transportation facility.

Posted on May 30, 2014 at 1:06 p.m.

Fairfield Community Schools is spending $15 million to do major add-ons to four buildings and build a new transportation facility.

Part of the money is coming from property taxes, but the school won’t be doing a referendum.

Since two of the individual projects are over the $2 million controlled project mark and under the $20 million referendum threshold, the district is instead going through the petition and remonstrance process required by the state for such projects.

That means property owners have to file petitions against the school’s planned new debt by June 27. If no one files a petition against the project during that time, the school is free to enter into new bonds and start the project.

This will add 11 cents to the tax rate, or $85 annually for a home worth $162,700 — the average home value in the district, according to school administration.

Owners of farm land would pay $2.30 more per acre, the district says.

The projects under the petition and remonstrance process are Millersburg Elementary, where the district plans to spend $4.2 million, and Fairfield Jr./Sr. High School, where it will spend $9.9 million.

Other upgrades at Benton and New Paris elementary schools and a planned transportation building will cost less than $2 million and don’t need to go through the petition process.

New space, new class structure

The three elementary schools will be restructured into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) focused schools.

Benton will get $669,000 worth of upgrades, New Paris will get $93,750 worth and Millersburg — which will house grades 6 through 8 in the future — is getting upgrades worth $4.2 million.

The goal with making the elementary schools STEAM-focused, Superintendent Thalheimer said, is to “wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.”

“We get ourselves chained to a particular textbook or a particular program because it says that will cover the (state) standards,” he added. “I really want my teachers to be able to bring the excitement and the engagement back to learning.”

Millersburg will be a practical arts academy where kids can stay from kindergarten to eighth grade if they like, learning how to use things they learn in a vocation they are interested in. 

Students who don’t want to do the practical arts route still have the option to attend grades 6 through 8 and the junior/senior high school, Thalheimer said.

The district will also spend $9.9 million on more classroom space, music rooms, student commons area and lab space at the high school. 

Agricultural classes at the school are particularly cramped, Thalheimer said, and much of the new space will be slated for those students.

The changes at the high school will also make more room for new technology opportunities for students.

Finally, a transportation facility will also be built. The garage will be large enough to fit 78 and 84-passenger buses, since the current facility doesn't have the space for those vehicles. The cost for this building will be $614,000.

’It’s just the right time’

In a handout about the construction projects that the district has given to parents, they address the question “...if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Thalheimer said these changes are part of the district’s three-year strategic plan to keep the students it has and attract new students as school choice and vouchers put local schools in competition with each other.

“For us, it’s just the right time,” Thalheimer said. “We need to have the programs that will make us competitive with other districts.”

The district has also been doing more inquiry-based and STEAM-style lessons with students in science, with the help of ETHOS, and Thalheimer said it’s time to expand that way of teaching to other subjects too.

If someone does file a petition against the projects, the district will have to go through what’s called a “petition race” where it will have to gather more petitions in favor of the projects than petitions against it.

But the race will only happen if someone formally protests the projects, which Thalheimer feels is unlikely.

“I hope that people who don’t like the project will talk to me before they feel the need to file a petition,” he said.

The district will pay off this new debt over the next 17 years. If everything goes as planned, construction will start in February and be completed by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

To see more of the district’s plans, visit fairfield.k12.in.us/news.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks


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