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1/7/2018 11:00:00 AM
Gibson County schools seeks use of $4 million in TIF funds for building expansion

Andrea Howe, Princeton Daily Clarion Editor

PRINCETON — Twenty years ago when Baldwin Heights School was closed the plan was to temporarily operate an elementary school campus split between Lowell Elementary and space carved out of the high school.

The goal was to bring the students into one campus within five years, Princeton Community Primary School principal Mary Williams told the Gibson County Commissioners at their meeting this week.

It's been 20 years, and it's time to do it, Williams said as she requested use of up to $4 million in Tax Increment Finance revenue coming from the Patoka/Union Twp. TIF District to help pay for a $9 million expansion project at the former Brumfield Elementary. 

The commissioners voted Tuesday to table action concerning an endorsement of the request that would send it on to the Gibson County Redevelopment Commission for further study.

Williams noted that the building was gutted and renovated four years ago to accommodate students in grades 1-2, but preschool and kindergarten students are still housed at the former Lowell Elementary building, which doesn't have the same level of infrastructure and technology.

The school board is considering a project that would add 12 classrooms to the south side of school, renovate the cafeteria, and build a new gym on the east side of the school.

The classroom addition is an immediate need that would cost about $5 million, which the district would finance through a bond issue. Williams said that accomplishing that work would bring the students under one roof with the same technology opportunities and more opportunities for collaboration among staff.

But if the gym/cafeteria work, estimated at about $4 million, is done in a separate phase, it could mean more disruption to students and teachers, plus the added complication of feeding 500 students in a smaller cafeteria space.

Doing all the work in one phase would take about 18 months, while separate projects could mean construction would be under way for three to four years.

"Try to teach five, six and seven-year-olds how to read while they're hearing concrete being busted up, music from construction workers and beeping sounds," she said.

"I'm anxious to bring all of our kids together," Williams said. "I know it's a lot of money … but if it's going to help my students, I'm not too proud to ask" for funding.

"It's time for us to move forward as safely as we possibly can."

School superintendent Brian Harmon said the district has dealt with the annual loss of about $1.2 million in state school funding from its $13 million budget since 2011, plus the circuit breaker impact of $1.2 million to $1.3 million on the district's property tax levy.

Harmon presented a letter from Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg law firm asserting that the request for use of TIF revenue for part of the project is legal and appropriate.

He told the commissioners that H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, the financial consulting firm retained by the school district and by the county, estimates $26 million in TIF revenue will be available from 2018 through 2021, with approximately $6.5 million available each year after obligations are met.

"We would be open to a two to three-year time-frame," Harmon said.

The redevelopment commission financed projects for the Gibson County Fairgrounds and Ivy Tech's Princeton campus through multi-year pledges of use of TIF revenue.

Harmon said the financial consultants estimate that making use of TIF revenue for part of the project would save about $1.75 million in interest alone, which is a benefit to taxpayers.

School officials noted that 80 percent of the students live in Patoka Township. Most of the property in the Patoka/Union Twp. TIF District also lies within Patoka Township.

"We understand that there are worthwhile projects out there," Harmon said. "We believe this is one of them."

Commissioner Steve Bottoms noted that the H.J. Umbaugh estimates of available TIF revenue are only estimates; the redevelopment commission can change how much money it actually collects, known as the “pass-through” amount.

Bottoms said that the 2017 pass-through was increased significantly to make more money available to local taxing units.

"We've got some due diligence to do on our part," commissioners president Alan Douglas said. "We will take it under advisement. It's going to take us a little bit of time."

Copyright 2018, Tri-State Media, Princeton, IN.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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