A poll will determine whether a majority of residents want renovation or new construction at Brookside School 54. But a neighborhood group called Save School 54 says the Indiana University-Purdue University Public Opinion Lab conducted poll uses “scare tactics” to coerce residents into choosing new construction. Parents of students, people in the school’s boundary and those in the census tract are among those being surveyed.
Bob Renaker, Save School 54 member and Springdale neighborhood resident, said about half the questions were related to cost figures based on an Indianapolis Public Schools architectural estimate. “Would you rather pay more in taxes? Should the building be renovated at any cost?” Renaker recalls the telephone surveyor asking him. The cost is exactly what IPS says will increase because of their need for a flexible, 21st century school with bigger and additional classrooms, more green space, off-street bus drop off and pick up sites, and a meeting room, to name a few of the amenities. IPS estimates that new construction provides these at a budgeted cost of $13.7 million — cheaper than providing an equal facility that is renovated. SS 54 claims the poll contains questions based on only IPS’ estimate of the renovation costs. It favors a traditional community school with small teacher-to-pupil ratios, the preservation of architecture spanning generations of schoolchildren and maintaining the historic values of one of only three buildings in the East 10th Street corridor. All of this can be done at a cost of $9.3 million, according to a Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana commissioned survey. Their survey upgrades classrooms for computer banks, adds air conditioning and brightens the inside, but doesn’t include many amenities IPS’ plan considers necessities. “The problem with the survey from Chicago is they put what they thought kids needed. We put what we thought kids needed,” said District Two and School 54 board representative Mary Bush. The Brookside School is one of six new buildings IPS is building in Phase I of its monumental capital improvement program, paid for by $250 million in bonds and increases in taxes to business and homeowners in Center Township. IPS spends hundreds of thousands annually to maintain the facility at 3150 E. 10th St., and they’ve used an extensive public relations campaign to help alleviate that drain on their budget. IPS School and Community Relations Director Mary Louis Scheid says they have sent out announcements, flyers and held meetings in the community to hear input. SS 54 member Joan Hostetler, however, claims neither she nor group members received any flyers prior to the April 29 meeting, which she noticed by chance posted over a fax machine in the John Boner Center. Nonetheless, about 100 SS 54 members — directed by a marquee reading “Save School 54 meeting in school gym … be there” — held signs, wore stickers and voiced support for renovation at the late April meeting. Furthermore, in the last six months the group has protested the demolition, starting a Web site (http://home.indy.rr.com/jharris1/school54/P4.html
), talking with neighbors and printing 100 “Save School 54” signs. But Save School 54 members feel ignored despite their efforts, insisting that IPS has “had their mind made up” and is “unwilling to compromise.” However, the poll is being conducted in part because of the dissention at the April meeting, which one can find recorded comments about on IPS’ Web site. After differences weren’t resolved at a subsequent meeting arranged by Near Eastside Community Organization President Josh Bowling, IPS voted on May 29 to conduct the poll. Scheid says the poll is a means to validating the voice of those parents who want a new school. In fact, in a survey sent home to parents by the School 54 principal, 95 percent wanted new construction. That desire seems more a reality for parents as IPS is officially in the design phase of the project, have assigned a local architect, have blueprints for the building and is working with the other communities in Phase I to help their new buildings fit in. Throughout the district — the state’s largest — more flexibility is needed for the end of court-ordered desegregation, an influx of Hispanic students and neighborhood revitalization. School 54 was one of the least flexible, according to the IPS and the Schmidt and Associates survey, ranking in the third worst condition. On the other hand, Historic Landmark’s Chicago-based BauerLatoza Studio determined that it was the only Phase I building worth saving. If a majority favors renovation, Bowling says they’ll just table it. Otherwise, new construction is slated for 2004 and demolition for 2006.