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The Salem Community School Board of Trustees has been given $7.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build safe rooms at Salem High School and Salem Middle School – making it not only the only school in Indiana to receive this funding this year but the only school in Indiana to have safe rooms at all of its school buildings. 

However, as Architect John Hawkins explained to the board this evening, the board has yet to accept the money.

He said if they don’t take the money, it goes back to the federal government. 

The money amounts to a 75 percent match of federal dollars to build two safe rooms with a total size of just under 20,000 square feet.

The board would have to issue a bond to generate the remaining 25 percent – which totals $2,609,994.06 as a local match for an 11,072 square foot addition to the high school.

The 7,100 square foot addition to the middle school would require a local match of $2,403.587.88. 

The project could cost the average homeowner less than $20 a year for seven years and a farmer with 100 acres of agricultureal land approximately $65.79 per year.

The board met in a 90-minute executive session followed by a 60-minute special public session. 

John Hawkins of Kovert Hawkins Groups spoke to the board and detailed plans for two new safe rooms at Salem Community Schools that could take advantage of over $7 million in federal funding.

Board president Rodney Brough said more special meetings might be scheduled over the summer as needed. 

The meeting was open to the public and also streamed live on WSLM’s social media page and a live feed from the school. 

New Superintendent Jon Acton said there’s already been a victory just to get the award.

“This is for the community,” said Acton. “These rooms have the capacity not just to protect our children but to protect the residents of Salem.”

The Bradie M. Shrum safe room became the first of its kind in Indiana for a school district when it was applied for in 2013 and constructed and then opened in 2017. 

The safe room has hurricane-proof windows, thick walls and is able to handle an EF-5 tornado (as well as a missile strike) while still appearing to be a traditional classroom.

It’s able to withstand storms that traditional schools and buildings aren’t built for, despite being up to code.

“When we received the grant for the first safe room, we felt it should go to the elementary school because it was the building with the most students – but had always hoped we could add additional spaces in the future,” said board member Rebecca White. 

She said FEMA notified the school last summer they were among eight other entities that would receive over $17 million in grants.

Sub-application Submitted Fed Share                  
Camp ToPeNeBee Shelter Plan $ 458,325.00
Indiana County MHMP Updates – PDMC 18 $ 291,867.00
Salem High School Safe Room $ 3,879,644.25
City of Decatur Flood Acquisition $ 660,204.00
Morgan County Acquisition $ 1,820,550.00 
City of Greenwood Acquisition $ 2,690,826.18 
City of Fort Wayne Flood Acquisition  $ 347,424.00 
Salem Middle School Safe Room  $ 3,614,700.00 
St. Joseph County Acquisition $ 2,199,580.49 
Indiana Management Cost Application – PDMC 18 $ 1,596,312.00 
Total Submitted Fed Share = $17,559,432.92

 

“This is an incredible situation to be in where you have already received the first safe room in the whole state of Indiana,” said White. “Now you have been selected as the only school in the 2019-20 round of grants and we could potentially become the only school in Indiana to have them at all of our schools. When I was elected to the school board, my number one goal was to make sure our students received a quality education and were safe. These rooms would not only protect our students but their families as well.”

Hawkins said the rooms would be designed to meet FEMA standards but could be used for other things during the remainder of the day. 

The high school safe room was based on previous plans for a high school band and choir room. 

Those plans were abandoned by the board over a year ago. 

The middle school safe room would be designed as a multi-purpose room that could be used for additional events that the current auditorium cannot be used for. 

Hawkins said they initially designed it to include a small kitchen and restrooms and those could be open for sporting events, as well as other afterschool uses. 

Board member Ron Haendiges questioned why other schools do not receive these grants and Hawkins said they are not well known and they take a tremendous amount of time to complete.

Hawkins said he has spent hundreds of hours compiling the information to submit to FEMA, utilizing not only information from the school but from the city and county and from River Hills Economic Development District and from architect Larry Timperman. 

Haendiges also questioned Hawkins on when the absolute deadline would be for the board to accept the money without losing it. 

Hawkins said the project was estimated to be completed by May 2021 and the board would need to approve the project at the June board meeting. 

“We would be able to meet the timeline with approval at the June meeting, after June it would be getting iffy and past the July meeting, there’s no way,” said Hawkins. 

The board asked if there was any variation in the plans or if they were final.

“We gave them conceptual designs,” said Hawkins. “We have to meet with all the stakeholders and do a more thorough design. There will be some changes. You could probably change the location — if you decide that you can move the tennis courts in the future, we could put this down closer to Harrison Street. But you wouldn’t be able to move it to the other side of the high school.” 

Hawkins said the only restriction on the use of the building was that it had to be open to the public during a time of emergency.

Hawkins said the two buildings would be able to hold about 1200 people in each (he said about 5 square feet per person)  and would be open to anyone who lived within a five-minute radius of the schools. 

“The building code actually allows you to cram a higher capacity in there,” said Hawkins, because the number of people isn’t expected to be there for extended periods of time. 

White, who is also a member of the Washington County Emergency Management Agency, said when severe weather season began in mid-March, the Bradie Shrum safe room had been prepared to be utilized as a shelter in case of inclement weather. 

“Because the Washington County Detention Center has been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and that was being used as an emergency shelter during tornado warnings, the board approved using the safe room as the new tornado shelter. We had everything planned out – including being able to take temperatures of everyone who came in, following the CDC guidelines, etc all which was a very involved process for the local EMA.”

Haendiges said there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding the coming school year and the economy. 

“I’m trying to get past this – does it make sense to [do this] if we have a potential decline in student population, does it make sense to add on additional fixed expenses,” Haendiges reasoned. 

LOCAL FUNDING

Tyler Lovenholtz of bakertilly, municipal advisors, let the board know that their current debts would be completely paid off in 2025, in five years. 

A bond for the safe room could be paid off by 2028 if it was initiated in 2021. 

This would require the school to generate an additional $235,831 with an increase in property tax of .00514.

A homeowner with a $100,000 home with an assessed valuation of $36,975 would have an increase of $1.58 per month or $19.01 for the year. 

One acre of agriculture land would see a five-cent increase per month or 66 cents per year. 

A 100-acre farm would have an additional $5.48 increase per month or $65.79 per year. 

A commercial or rental property valued at $100,000 would see a $4.28 per month increase or $51.40 per year. 

“The total annual payments don’t start to decline until 2024, any additional debt you issue will create an increase in your debt-service tax rate,” he said. 

Lovenholtz said they could structure the debt to have minimal impact over the first three years (2021-2023) and start making larger payments as the debt matures. 

He said the school had the ability to issue a $381,000 bond this year and a possible $5.3 million bond for the safe room project to be issued early 2021.

It would be paid back in seven annual payments, according to Lovenholtz.

The first three years would be reduced payments of interest only, with the principal starting to be paid in 2025. 

“You would see a drop in overall annual payments in 2025 and they would be paid off by 2028,” Lovenholtz said. 

He said the school had the option to lengthen the term of the bonds to make the last few years’ payments lower. 

Those with tax caps in the City of Salem would not see any increase. 

If the assessed values were raised, then there would be an increase in those property taxes. 

“They could see an impact based on that,” Lovenholtz said. 

Board member Mark Abbott said, “The residents of the city were just reassessed and those increased significantly due to projects done throughout the county – the jail project and the courthouse renovations. My concern, with those assessments going up and those taxes capped, do you think those assessments would go up again if a project of this magnitude was added to the current tax rate?”

“Well, as far as the caps and the circuit breaker protections, that really is a per-parcel assessment,” Lovenholtz said. “We haven’t done that here but we’d be willing to have a third party run some numbers and projections and we can see how that would impact the taxpayers in general.”

Lovenholtz said the interest rate would be one percent above the current interest rate at the time of issuance. 

“These are based on current rates plus one percent,” said Lovenholtz. “We would be looking at about 2.61 percent and for the larger project, we would be looking at 2.41 percent based on current rates.” 

There would need to be several school board meetings and hearings before the project is completed, all with public input. 

However, there would not be a referendum on the project if the total local match was kept below $5,350,000. 

CHANGES IN ADMINISTRATIVE POSITIONS

The board approved changes in administrative positions at the beginning of their special meeting. 

Jerry Hickey, who was moved last school year to the principal position of Bradie M. Shrum, has been returned to assistant principal at the high school. 

Kevin Albertson, who had been an assistant principal at the high school is being moved to principal at the middle school. 

Brent Miller will serve as assistant principal of the middle school. 

Jen Lawyer, who is currently the middle school principal, is being moved to the position of principal of the elementary school. 

Clinton Blankenbaker will be moved from the middle school to be an assistant principal at the elementary school. 

Nicole Coldwell will be an assistant principal at the elementary school.

Troy Albert will remain as principal at the high school.

Acton said the positions would change effective July 1. 

Brent Minton, former principal at the elementary school, will remain in an administrative role at the superintendent’s office.