FWCS Approves $119M Building Project, Donates Pleasant Center to Airport Authority

By Rachel Martin

December 13, 2011 Updated Dec 13, 2011 at 12:49 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The Fort Wayne Community Schools Board of Trustees approved many plans Monday night that will change the way buildings are operating in their district and will also affect tax payers.

Fort wayne tax payers could see a hike in their property tax bills in the coming years. FWCS School Board members unanimously passed a $119M dollar building renovation project Monday night. The proposed plan was originally $242M dollars, but Board members lowered the cost exclaiming it was “too lofty of a goal.” Board members say the $119M would better accommodate tax payers.

“We realized we couldn’t come back with a number the community couldn’t afford. So, while I’m concerned, I’m going to vote for the lower amount because it’s better than no amount,” said Mark Giaquinta, FWCS Board President. “I’m afraid that if we really truly voted for the amount that would be necessary to serve our students, it wouldn’t get passed in this tough economic time.”

The proposed $119M project will improve conditions of 36 of the 62 buildings in the district. It is a three-phase project, and the first phase will provide new heating and ventilation systems, windows and lighting, and improve safety conditions for 10 schools. The proposal will cost tax payers with an $89 thousand home an extra $27 a year beginning in 2013. Board members compared that to one less Big Mac or coffee a month.

Bob Koop has grandchildren who attend FWCS. He says regardless of the cost, why did it take so long to improve their schools?

“What happened to their maintenance program in the very first place? Why do they wait so long for this to happen and now they want to do everything all at one time?” Koop said. “They could’ve have a maintenance program and little by little each school, as it needed could’ve been repaired, and they could’ve drug it out into smaller increments.”

Giaquinta says the Board wanted to show their fiscal responsibilities in other areas of school operations before approaching the community with a large building project. He says they’ve maintained all they could, but things are no longer holding up.

“Harrison Hill looks a lot like it did when I walked through the door in 1959. So it's really time for us to go after some of these buildings that we've tried to put band-aids on, but the band-aids just aren't working anymore,” Giaquinta said. “So we’re hoping the community will see $27 more as a reasonable amount to ask to keep our schools viable for our students and their parents.”

Now School Board members will need to gather 100 signatures to ensure this proposal makes it on the May 8 ballot. Having the question on the ballot will put the debt repayment outside of the property tax cap. Tax payers who own property and are registered to vote within FWCS district lines are eligible to sign the petition. The petition will be available to sign on Dec 20 from 3:30-6 p.m. at the Fort Wayne Education Association office at 229 W. Berry St.

Another proposal that was passed Monday night, was transferring Pleasant Center Elementary to the Fort Wayne Allen County Airport Authority. Pleasant Center closed in June 2010, and the Airport Authority has been working on a transfer with FWCS since Nov. 2010. Indiana law allows the transfer of surplus school property to another governmental entity upon mutual agreement.

Giaquinta says the building is tax exempt since it was used for educational purposes. Therefore, it was donated to the Airport Authority by FWCS. Giaquinta says it is better to donate the empty building than continue to pay for it or tear it down.

“We’re going to save the money that we would incur tearing the building down,” Giaquinta said. “If we could turn a building that has been tax exempt, and have it end up in the hands of private sector where they’re actually paying tax dollars on that property, it benefits the entire community.”

Koop says he doesn’t understand why FWCS donated it when they could’ve made a profit from it.

“The Airport Authority should be giving Fort Wayne Schools some kind of funds for this property in the first place. This would help with the money they need for the repairs. This does not make any sense,” Koop said.

Giaquinta says the Airport Authority is in a better position to sell the school building. He says they are working with the Alliance for Economic Development on a project that should bring in more tax dollars.

“We’re good at teaching kids. So for us to get into the economic development business would be like driving a square peg into a round hole,” Giaquinta said.

The Airport Authority is expected to approve a resolution at its meeting on Dec 19. With their approval, the Airport Authority will obtain full ownership and control of Pleasant Center Elementary.

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