A plea for help..
On Thursday, October 22, in front of a heated audience, the Tri-Township School Board voted unanimously to move LaCrosse High School to Wanatah. Without ever giving the public a chance to speak, without ever once taking our study from Ratio into consideration, without ever once attempting to work with the community members.
The future of our historic school building is in grave danger.
In February 2020, the Tri-Township school board made a surprise announcement that they were proposing to close LaCrosse High School and build an additional five classrooms onto the Wanatah School to house grades K through 12.
Mr. Kelly Shepherd began presenting a lot of numbers and assumptions to the public about how the proposed project at Wanatah would be in the best interest of the students, school district and the community. However, the citizens of LaCrosse and The Regional News found many inconsistencies in Shepherd’s numbers, along with a surprising number of closed-door meetings taking place.
In September 2020, Mr. Shepherd spewed out skewed numbers, outright lies, and unsubstantiated speculation to convince the community and sway board members that building an addition onto Wanatah is the most cost-effective solution and the only way to secure a future for Tri-Township. The more Shepherd talks, the more the Wanatah Project gets cheaper and the LCHS renovation costs get more and more expensive.
He presents the Wanatah project estimates at the extreme low end of $2,720,00 and presents project estimates for the renovation of the LCHS building on the extreme high of $6,070,000 based on estimates by Performance Services, the architectural firm hired by Tri-Township.
Mr. Shepherd has continuously attempted to make the historic 1915 schoolhouse look like a decrepit obsolete liability. He stated that renovating the building would be too expensive and “risky.” His word choice and tone clearly convey he has no respect for the schoolhouse as a historical icon or the pride of our community. He refers to the building as a “money pit” while the only major upgrades in recent years have been made at Wanatah. Simple repairs appear to be ignored as an intentional attempt to allow the building fall to apart.
In between 2014 and 2015, they put $3,150,000 into the Wanatah building for HVAC, lighting systems, administrative office upgrades and numerous other updates. They have been intentionally ignoring LCHS as they funnel all the district’s money into the Wanatah building, intentionally allowing the historic LCHS to fall into disrepair in an attempt to convince the community that moving the high school to Wanatah is the only option.
They have been allowing our historic 1915 schoolhouse to fall apart. A building that has stood the test of time and provided a unique, intimate learning environment for 105 years.
In early March, over thirty community members partnered with LaPorte’s People Engaged in Preservation to raise funds to match a $3,500 grant provided by Indiana Landmarks to conduct a historic renovation study of LaCrosse High School. In the following months, Indiana Landmarks selected Ratio Architects, a firm specializing in historic renovation, to perform the study.
Ratio Architects provided an estimate based on high, medium, and low priority options for renovations. The high priority options include boiler, heating, HVAC, electrical, plumbing , ADA restroom compliant upgrades and the addition of an elevator. The low to medium priority items like window repairs, masonry repairs and interior finishes can be completed at a later time, even years from now. Total estimated costs for the high priority renovations would only be $3,808,837.
Which is quite different from Shepherd’s number given at the meeting in September 2020.
His estimate of the Wanatah Project at $2,720,000 that he gave in September compared to the Performance Services base estimate he gave in February was $2,778,000. Neither include the $107,000 for furnishings and equipment. Neither include the cost of demolition or upkeep for the LCHS building. The entire cost of the whole entire Wanatah project could easily exceed $3,500,000.
Not to mention, the Wanatah Project would cost the school district 15,400 square feet. And not to mention, the 2015 Performance Services study required six additional classrooms, a cafeteria addition, and upgrades for administrative offices and mechanical systems in order to accommodate a high school.
Comparing the cost per square foot for each project is absolutely mind-blowing. For the Wanatah Project: $2,960,000.00 for 6,000 sq. ft. would cost $493.33 per sq. ft. Compared to the LaCrosse Renovation: $4,892.775.00 for 22,000 sq. ft. which would cost $222.40 per sq. ft. – 3 ½ times more space for ½ of the sq. ft. cost, giving the high school a new electrical system, security system, HVAC, waterproof the exterior, fix drainage, installation of a fire suppression system, construct an elevator on the east side, and refinish interior and exterior finishes.
This would give the school district ample room for growth; since Mr. Shepherd is predicting a large unsubstantiated expansion from Valpo, unlike his proposed plan which would pack students into the Wanatah building like sardines.
They want to destroy a structurally sound, historic building, the pride of the community and the heart of a dying town when renovation is not only possible but affordable. The building has already stood the test of time. Buildings from the Pre-War Era were built with higher-quality materials such as rare hardwoods, especially heart pine, and wood from old-growth forests that no longer exist. These buildings were also built by different standards. A century-old building is often much more structurally sound than a modern-day construction.
The closing of a neighborhood school is often the final blow to a rural community’s chance for stability or revitalization. Our historic schoolhouse is our community’s anchor, offering a distinct and unique place to learn while providing a constant and subtle lesson about the history of our town and respect for the past. LCHS provides a small, intimate setting for learning. Our children grow up immersed in rich historic school tradition and architecture. We will not only lose our beloved building, we will lose our sense of permanency and heritage.
Links to the articles, factsheets, and video coverage: Regional News Coverage.