Like many school districts in the area, Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. is experiencing change quickly with its academics, but also with its high enrollment numbers in recent years.
Construction of elementary schools and significant renovation at the high school has shaped the district for its future, aside from Mt. Vernon Middle School, which had not seen physical upgrades or added space for a growing student population.
In September of last year, the Mt. Vernon School Corp. School Board of Trustees passed a community feasibility task force recommendation that called for a $10 million renovation of the middle school.
Currently, due to space, the middle school houses sixth- and seventh-grade students, but its eighth-grade students attend classes at the high school.
“The existing building was a middle school, grades 6, 7 and 8, building when it was originally constructed,” Mt. Vernon Supt. Shane Robbins said. “That was several years ago, and the district has gone through an incredible amount of growth. I can’t tell you how many years ago, but they moved the eighth graders out of the middle school and put them in the high school. So, right there’s the need. We have to get them out of the high school and back in the middle school, for two reasons, from a programming standpoint – so we have room for programming changes at the high school as well – and from a capacity standpoint.”
The renovation and reconstruction is expected to increase the building’s capacity by more than 450 students and approximately 60,000 square feet of learning and administrative space, a new gym and reconfigured cafeteria.
“It’s to reconsolidate the middle school into a true middle school again so they’re not separated, because right now, we have an administrator at the high school managing the eighth-grade academy,” Robbins said. “It also makes it hard with specials, like our fine arts courses.”
Robbins said construction will be done in phases in terms of when the building will be open.
“The first phase is the gymnasium, administrative offices and some classrooms in the middle of the building,” he said. “We repurposed the old cafeteria into new, 21st century-type classroom spaces that encourage collaboration. That phase is estimated to be complete by Dec. 31.”
Robbins said the second phase will not be complete until about one year from now.
“However, we will have a considerable amount of it finished, because we’re doing the site prep work in phase one,” he said.
Eighth grade students will return to the middle school at the start of the 2018-19 school, when the building is expected to open and be completely finished.
FINANCING AN IMPROVED MIDDLE SCHOOL
Upon announcement of the middle school’s reconstruction, Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. has said the $10 million price tag will be offset by approximately $8 million in savings that the district recently captured with refinancing some of its current bond debt.
The refinancing does not extend the length of the debt.
With the district’s current debt structure, the project also does not cause any increase to the current debt service tax rate levied by the district. Mt. Vernon’s 2017 tax rate has been the lowest since 2012.
Earlier this month, the Indiana Dept. of Education released school accountability grades for the 2016-17 school year.
Mt. Vernon Community School Corp. improved by one letter grade from the 2015-16 year, from a B to a C.