With Orchard Park Elementary in its final year of operation, questions remain about what will happen to the building after the school year ends.
Several Carmel residents who live near the building expressed concerns about its future during a Nov. 19 virtual meeting of the Home Place Advisory Board. Carmel Clay Schools Supt. Michael Beresford said district officials are considering several scenarios and have ruled many others out.
Options range from using the space for college-level education classes to offering specialized programming such as robotics to housing nonprofits or a community center.
Beresford said the district should have a plan in place by spring 2022, at the latest, as state law allows a charter school to pay $1 annually to lease school buildings that have been vacant for at least a year.
Regardless of the future use or timeline, Beresford said CCS will maintain the property during the transition period.
“It’s not going to be put out to pasture and the weeds grow,” he said. “We’re going to have our normal care of the property.”
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, who also participated in the Nov. 19 meeting, said he recently spoke to a university president about the property and that they discussed the possibility of it becoming an incubator for new businesses or a studio for an art school.
“What I don’t want to see is a fancy redevelopment with houses that don’t fit into the neighborhood. That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Brainard said. “What I’d like to see is a place where we still have a playground, a park-like atmosphere for the people in the neighborhood, a place that can act as a community center.”
Beresford said administrators had originally planned several events in honor of Orchard Park’s final year in operation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for many of them to take place. The district is putting together a video tribute containing pictures and stories from the school through the years.
The CCS school board voted in July 2018 to close the school after the 2020-21 school year and build a new elementary building 5 miles to the northwest. Clay Center Elementary will open in the fall of 2021.
Not feeling welcome
The future of Orchard Park Elementary was the focal point of the Nov. 19 Home Place Advisory Board meeting, but officials also addressed a resident’s concern about people living in other parts of Carmel having negative perceptions of Home Place.
Home Place resident Phil Ranly said some residents in other parts of the community have seemed unwilling to accept students redistricted from Orchard Park into their schools.
“There are comments on the chats and some of the sessions on redistricting where West Clay residents aren’t wanting our students to come, or Forest Dale residents are saying, ‘We don’t want students from Home Place,’” Ranly said. “It really doesn’t make us feel welcome.”
CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said he was aware of some of the comments and that they were likely made in ignorance. He said he’s tried to address them as they arise and offer more accurate information.
“I was really disappointed in some of the comments I heard about it,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a sentiment of the majority of the community of Carmel.”
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he was unaware of the comments but that their message was inappropriate.
“Carmel needs to be a place where everyone, regardless of where they’re from, their background or religious affiliation, can thrive and prosper,” he said. “(The city is) going to continue to invest in the Home Place area so that it hopefully becomes an even better place for people to raise their families and spend their lives. There’s no part of the city that should be looked down on.”