GARY — Efforts to save the historic Gary Roosevelt school building could cost the Gary Community School Corporation more than $10.4 million.
In a community meeting Tuesday night at the Gary Area Career Center, Eric Parish of Gary schools’ state takeover team MGT Consulting, and Marshall Emerson of educational services provider EdisonLearning presented an update of the necessary repairs of Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy’s former home.
The presentation included a video walk-through of the building which has sat vacant to students since late November. A full audience of mainly Roosevelt alumni watched as administrators on screen toured flood-stained halls, paint peeling and debris from fallen ceiling tiles dusting classroom floors.
“This has probably been one of the more trying years in my career,” Emerson said, who joined EdisonLearning about a year ago. “The community has really rallied around our students to get through the rest of the school year.”
EdisonLearning first took responsibility of providing educational services at Gary Roosevelt after the state named the for-profit education provider Roosevelt's turnaround operator during the state's 2012 takeover of the school.
In 2017, the Indiana State Board of Education approved an innovation network agreement keeping EdisonLearning on to provide educational services with Gary schools overseeing facilities management of the Roosevelt property.
Parish, acting as a member of its emergency management team during the Gary school corporation’s own state takeover, detailed the significant damage sustained in the 90-year-old building in this winter’s polar vortex.
Initially an aging boiler system was believed to be the root cause of the building’s failing heating. However, Parish said upon inspection, damage to the schools’ boilers was found to be minimal.
Instead, a series of frozen and bursting pipes tucked behind walls in the aging building likely sustained the greatest damage. Parish said repairs to the pipes, as well as nearly all heating vents in the school, would be needed, as well as environmental cleaning of flooding and asbestos-laden ceiling tiles, before administrators could consider bringing Roosevelt students back into the building.
Students were first kept home from the Roosevelt building at West 25th Avenue as early as Jan. 25, according to Roosevelt's Twitter page. Students returned to classes Feb. 14 in the Gary Area Career Center as EdisonLearning worked with the Gary Community School Corp. to address the lack of heat in the building.
At first, Roosevelt administrators communicated to the public that necessary repairs would take a couple of weeks. However, as the 2018-19 school year came to a close and students had yet to return to the Roosevelt building, Emerson informed parents of the school's intention to resume classes at the Gary Area Career Center for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
A fire caused by faulty wiring in the building shortly after classes resumed in February only added insult to injury, Emerson said.
The Indiana State Board of Education, which retained budgetary oversight of the innovation school following the state's 2012 takeover, approved state funding to Roosevelt for the next school year in a July 10 board meeting, allocating about $1 million less than the year before.
Parish said the district has submitted an insurance claim for cold weather damages, but that the claim is still being settled.
Gary schools — which operates 12 occupied school buildings and spends about $10 million a year on facilities maintenance, repairs, custodial work and groundskeeping — only receives $2.5 million in tax payer support to fund facility operations, leading many to question the future of the Roosevelt building.
Emerson said while Gary schools is responsible for facilities costs, EdisonLearning put more than $1.2 million toward capital improvements prior to the company’s 2017 agreement with Gary schools and has since secured more than $4 million in grants to fund electrical systems, security and technology updates.
“We did everything we possibly could to keep our students at our home campus, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t healthy or safe for our kids to be there,” Emerson said. “We want to be back at our home campus. There’s a lot of pride there.”
Many Roosevelt alumni in the audience offered suggestions for what should happen next at the building carrying historical significance as one of the first African American and minority designated schools in the state.
Some suggested fundraising and others the preservation of the school as a museum or historical site, while more still hoped that students could one day return to the building for classes.
“We should use it as a teaching tool,” said Pauline Tatum, a 1984 Roosevelt alumna who flew in from Dallas, Texas, for the community meeting, asking that the district consider additional walk-throughs of the building with alumni and students present. “Come back to the table. We will work on a plan. We will work with you.”
Parish said Tuesday night’s meeting was only to present details of the necessary maintenance. Any decision made about the school’s future will be discussed in future public meetings, he said.
The Gary Community School Corp. will have its next community meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Gary Area Career Center. The public is encouraged to submit questions about Roosevelt to Gary schools at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this story misspelled Pauline Tatum's name. The Times regrets this error.