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Gary schools gains approval for four-year, $25 million school building repair plan
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Gary schools gains approval for four-year, $25 million school building repair plan

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Gary Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Tennille Foster welcomes parents and students to Frankie McCullough Academy for breakfast and registration before the first day of school in August. McCullough reopened this year as a co-ed elementary school after serving for years as an all-girls academy.

GARY — The Gary Community School Corp. has been given approval to move forward with a plan to defer some loan repayments, freeing up funds for school improvements and building demolition over the next four years.

The State Board of Finance unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday morning to delay repayment, and extend by 54 months, the terms of nine Common School Fund loans taken on by the cash-strapped district to help cover operating expenses.

The plan, which will see about $470,000 made available to the district monthly over the course of 4½ years, is made possible under a new state law allowing Gary schools to suspend Common School Fund payments and transfer funds to a new School Improvement Fund for district repairs.

Here are the new Indiana laws to know before they take effect July 1

The proposal received the approval last week of Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board, which oversees turnaround efforts in the state takeover school district.

Under the plan set forward by Gary schools’ takeover team, school improvements will come in eight phases as funds become available each month, totaling about $25 million in the 4½ year period.

The Gary schools emergency management team sought community feedback on desired projects in May. Roofing repairs, boiler replacement and security upgrades were among the most requested projects, said Eric Parish of emergency management provider, MGT Consulting.

Immediate projects to begin this summer include roof replacement in critical areas at West Side Leadership Academy, boiler replacement at Bethune Early Childhood Center and Gary Middle School, where existing boilers are about 60 years old, paint and project signage, and rekeying doors through a digital key management system.

This first phase will also include ongoing abatement and demolition of unused Gary school properties in coordination with the city of Gary.

Gary schools poised to spend $25 million to repair, demolish dilapidated buildings

Following phases will include athletic facility upgrades at West Side; continued roof repair and replacement at West Side, Gary Middle School and the Gary Area Career Center; security reconfiguration and upgrades at six school entrances; and playground inspection and repair across the district.

All spending from the School Improvement Fund must be approved by the state’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board. District leaders will report back to DUAB monthly on progress and make a control document available to the public detailing project budgets, expected completion timelines and changes in repair proposals, Parish said.

He said the proposed projects will both lend themselves to academic improvements in an upgraded learning atmosphere and enrollment gains for the district via more appealing school buildings.

State to negotiate 2-year extension of Gary schools takeover services

“This is a timely investment not just in the Gary Community School Corp., but in Gary itself,” Parish said.

The district is also working to develop an accountability plan for its exit from distressed unit status, Parish said Tuesday.

This plan, created with community feedback, will outline a road map to ending the state’s takeover of the Gary Community School Corp. within the next three years and will be made available on the school district’s website and social media this August.

Gallery: Gary's abandoned schools

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