(Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
(Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Most primary elections don't draw a large voter turnout, but the May 6 primary in Jefferson County might buck that trend.

Voters will be asked to help determine the path public education takes in the Madison Consolidated Schools for the next two decades by voting "yes" or "no" on a $40 million building renovation proposal.

The proposed project would refurbish two schools. Much of the debate comes down to the cost of the plan.

With several nieces and nephews living in Madison, Sally Nay said she keeps up on the local schools. The lifelong Madison residents said she favors the referendum.

Nay attended Canaan Elementary School before graduating from Madison Consolidated High School. Her daughter graduated from the high school in 2009.

Nay called reports of some of the problems at the school - a leaky roof and problems with pipes - "appalling."

Nay supports the referendum, but she also said she wants to support education in general.

"We have to support all our schools," Nay said. "We have to give our children the opportunity for a good education."

Mike Schafer supports the schools, but doesn't think the referendum is the right direction.

"Buildings are important," he said, "but we need to put the main emphasis on going to college."

Schafer has lived in Madison his entire life, except for 20 years spent in the military. He said making sure Madison's students are ready for life after high school should be the school district's primary goal.

He doesn't like how the school district has handled school maintenance in the past or how the building improvement plan was conceived.

"It should have come from the bottom up, instead of just coming from the group they set up (a building project task force)," Schafer said. He would have preferred more community involvement.

The plan created by the task force would close E. O. Muncie Elementary School and send students to Anderson Elementary School after a series of renovations.

Extensive repairs, upgrades and additions would be made to Madison Consolidated High School.

According to a study by Schmidt & Associates - an engineering firm from Indianapolis hired to design and implement changes to the buildings if the referendum is passed - E. O. Muncie and the high school are in the worst shape of any of the buildings in the district.

The report said of E. O. Muncie: "There is a lack of compliance with ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessibility throughout the facility, complicated by non-compliance with current building codes and Board of Health, IAQ (indoor air quality) requirements for educational facilities. The condition of the overall building shell and presence of hazardous products as well as the condition of the concrete canopy create potentially harmful conditions."

The plan presented to the school board by the task force would send students now attending E. O. Muncie to Anderson Elementary School after a new classroom wing, main office, media center and cafeteria are added.

Work at the high school would include construction of a gymnasium, converting the old gym into a performing arts center for music and theater education and performances, renovating the school's "A" wing, adding classroom wings that would include a technology center, a centralized media center, new entryways, a renovated main office area and a main entrance facing Clifty Drive.

The high school faces similar problems as E. O. Muncie with ADA compliance and air quality issues.

The Madison School Board voted unanimously in December to place the $40 million referendum on the ballot after more than two months of open meetings conducted by the building project task force comprised of community members.

Since the plan was unveiled the issue has divided much of the community.

Max McGee, a junior at MCHS, said he would like to see some of the proposed changes made to the school but doesn't think it is worth the increase in taxes.

McGee is involved with the theater department and would like a new performing arts center, even though he will graduate before it was completed.

"But, if I were voting, I would probably have to say no," McGee said.

Bailey Quiggle, a freshman, disagreed, saying the process is "long overdue."

"About a week ago, all the boys bathrooms were out of order except one," she said.

Quiggle said there were plumbing problems that kept the stalls out of order for the day.

"You could smell it in the halls," she said.

Work at the high school would include replacing much of the pipe system throughout the building.

Ruth Poindexter, a former teacher at Southwestern Schools, said she understands the need to make the changes but doesn't approve of the referendum.

"I just think there's a lot of ways to improve schools without all the fluff," she said.

Poindexter said the "beautification" of the high school isn't necessary.

The 29-year teaching veteran said she's taught students in worse conditions during her time in front of the chalkboard.

"I've taught in classrooms when snow was coming in through the windows," she said. "And those kids learned."

The tax impact, Poindexter added, could be an additional hardship to many of the area's residents.

If passed the referendum would spread the bond over a 19-year repayment plan. The gross impact of the referendum would be a 40 cent increase for every $100 of assessed property value.

The best way for individuals or businesses to determine the impact on their taxes is to visit the Referendum Impact Calculator at https://gateway.ifionline.org/CalculatorsDLGF/RefCalculator.aspxAt various town hall and Madison Area Chamber of Commerce meetings, MCS Superintendent Ginger Studebaker-Bolinger said that interest rates and building costs will only increase, so it would be cheaper in the long run to proceed sooner rather than later.

Other sources for information include:

• Madison Consolidated Schools/Building project - http://futureofmadisonschools.blogspot.com/

• Indiana Department of Education - http://www.doe.in.gov/

• Indiana Gateway for Government Units - https://gateway.ifionline.org/

• Indiana Department of Local Government Finance - https://secure.in.gov/dlgf/8789.htm