Wawasee committee presents suggestions to school board on future growth

Michael Mettham talks to the Wawasee School Board on Tuesday about the purpose and process for the Executive Summary Committeee.
By David Slone

SYRACUSE – Four members of the 44-member Wawasee Community Engagement Committee presented their findings to the school board Tuesday.

Those findings included combining Milford Middle School with Wawasee Middle School, renovating or constructing a new Milford Elementary and constructing of a new performing arts center, among others.

Before turning the meeting over to the executive committee members, Superintendent Dr. Steve Troyer explained that from late February through the end of March, representatives of the community met five different times to help provide the school board with input on everything from educational programming to facility needs. The four members presenting Tuesday were Karena Wilkinson, Jeff Dyson, Josh Weiland and Mike Mettham.

Mettham said the task force was broken up into four equal groups to study and discuss education program and facilities needs across the school corporation, as well as provide to the board options to consider based upon the data and feedback they obtained. The task force included parents, patrons, community leaders, teachers, support staff, administrators and two board members.

Dyson said their foundation included that their focus was on the children and they had to make data-driven decisions. Instruction must drive construction, safety must be a priority and immediate needs should be a focus. They wanted to strive for curriculum and program equity and maximum use of current facilities.

Wilkinson said, “When we met on the Saturday at Wawasee Middle School with everybody, we did have a good portion of time where we really got down to the brass tax and took all of the wish lists from everybody. We got to prioritize things, we hashed things out.”

Starting out with items that were discussed the most by the committee, Weiland said the biggest one they talked about was the combination of Milford and Wawasee middle schools.

“This was a major discussion point, and we all landed on the fact that it makes the most sense, in our opinions, to merge the two schools,” Weiland said, adding that it wasn’t the “preference” of everyone in the group, but it made the most sense when all the information is considered.

One of those considerations was that merging would provide more opportunities for more students in more areas, he said, including educational programming, the arts and athletics.

Each group of the committee also discussed the option of renovating or constructing a new elementary school in Milford. Weiland said Milford is the facility most in need of renovation. All four groups noted the option should be given “high priority” as far as the construction of a new elementary school in Milford, or, at minimum, significant renovations.

Extracurricular activity is a huge piece in developing well-rounded citizens in the community, he said, so the committee asked the school board to consider a new performing arts center. He said it was a pressing need they saw as they toured the school. The current auditorium is out of dated and space is very limited. If it’s pursued with a “broad vision,” Weiland said, a new performing arts center could be used for community events.

As for athletics, he said the committee thinks the board should consider a new mixed-use fieldhouse that could be shared by the school and community. In addition to that, they suggested the renovation or construction of a new competitive swimming pool as the current pool is aging.

Dyson talked about the “frequently discussed” items that a majority of the groups brought up.

If a new performing arts center was built, that could open space for the CTE, expansion of STEAM and STEM programs, robotics and AP programs and classroom space, he said.

The planetarium needs update or replaced.

Wawasee needs a marketing and communication strategy, he said, to try to get the communities to come together.

The final “frequently discussed” item was the alternative learning facilities, which are housed in trailers outside of the high school. Dyson said those facilities needed evaluated and improved.

Wilkinson then presented on the “somewhat discussed” items, which were mentioned in one or two groups but often. Those included expanding preschool space, improving parent drop-off and pickup areas at the elementary schools, playground updates and making the necessary improvements as needed to the HVAC units.

Additional considerations, as presented by Mettham, included expanding the middle school industrial technology areas, addressing the softball and baseball turf, consider outdoor classroom space, improving and updating entrances to all schools and update the district’s radio system for emergencies.

Board members thanked the committee members for their work and said they were impressed with the work. Board member Andy Cripe, who was one of the two board members who sat through the committee meetings to listen but was not allowed to speak, said he felt like the process was productive and was encouraged by it. The other board member, Steven Baut, said it was nice to see the group represented all walks of life in the community.

Troyer said the executive summary will be posted on the school corporation’s website later this week for the community to review, as well as possibly some additional resources.

“We want to make sure that we’re communicating and making available information for people to see,” he said.

He noted that with all the talk of renovations and new construction, “All of that construction and renovation will be happening without raising property taxes. So, that’s a critical piece that we have been planning for.”

He said interim finance director Dr. Brandon Penrod has been doing long-term planning as far as where Wawasee’s debt tax rate is.

“Currently, it sits at $0.5399, and we’re planning for $0.5399 again next year, and the plan would be moving forward that the board has wished that we manage to a level tax rate,” Troyer said. “Maybe a little bit of undulation in there, but for the most part, trying to stay right around the 54 cents, which is partly the operation fund levy and partly the debt levy that we use to pay back bonds.”

He stated renovations or construction would happen without raising the tax rate over the next five years.