EXPLAINING THE NUMBERS: Tom Neff, an architect from Schmidt Associates of Indianapolis, speaks at a Madison Consolidated Schools community forum about proposed building projects on Wednesday at the Opal E. Sherman Auditorium at Madison Consolidated High School. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)†
EXPLAINING THE NUMBERS: Tom Neff, an architect from Schmidt Associates of Indianapolis, speaks at a Madison Consolidated Schools community forum about proposed building projects on Wednesday at the Opal E. Sherman Auditorium at Madison Consolidated High School. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)†
A group of community members gathered at the Opal E. Sherman Auditorium at Madison Consolidated High School on Wednesday to question school officials about the $40 million school renovation project recommended by the school board.

The school district held community forums at noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and hear how the school board arrived at its decision.

Audience members asked about how the project would impact property taxes. While the task force and representatives from the financial adviser group Umbaugh & Associates have said the average homeowner will see an increase of about $5 a month, confusion arose over how the tax increase will be presented on the ballot. 

State law dictates that when voters see the referendum on the ballot, the question must reference the gross impact the $40 million bond will have on property taxes. 

The gross impact is roughly a 40 cent increase per $100 spent. Tom Neff, chief architect on the project for Schmidt & Associates, said that is a little misleading. The bond won't be added to property taxes until 2017 when existing debt is paid off. The increase to local property taxes would be about $5.60 each month, Neff said.

The traffic flow situation at Anderson Elementary School was also discussed. 

Under the proposed plan, additions would be made at Anderson, giving it the capacity to  house approximately 700 students.

Helen Cope said during the forum that "traffic flow seems a bit confusing even now. What's it going to do when everyone is driving there?"

Mike Frazier, director of operations for MCS, said that the school has use of adjacent property that leads to Michigan Road, and an additional outlet would be added as an exit.

Later Cope said she is in favor of the project, but is concerned about how senior citizens will respond to the issue.

"Madison has a changing and growing senior population," she said. "They might not feel connected to the schools and vote against it."

Questions were also raised about why the proposed gymnasium seemed to be a focal point for the project.

Neff said the idea to build a new gym actually evolved from the idea of building a new auditorium.

The current auditorium, Neff said, isn't large enough to service the school, and building a new auditorium is usually the most costly part of school construction. He said the gym is well suited for an auditorium, as well as a performing arts space.

Aaron Kelsey, director of the school's Fine Arts Academy and task force member, said several different organizations use the gym and auditorium and that expanding the areas while moving them closer would increase options for different events. 

"Those two spaces are used the most," he said. "There's hardly a weekend when the arts wing and the gym are quiet."

John Spalding said he's attended some earlier school board meetings to try to stay informed on the building plan.

"I think it's badly needed," he said. " I'm surprised the turnout has been as minimal as what it has been. I would think there would be more public interest in it. Maybe the weather is a factor in it or something. You think when you start getting into people's pocket books that they'd be able to fill this place up." 

After the forums, the board held a hearing, officially placing the project onto the May ballot. Since the board has taken that step, board members along with school district employees will no longer be allowed to use school property to discuss the issue.