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A student is shown outside Taylor High School in this file photo.

An $18.3 million improvement project for Taylor Community Schools aims to update aging infrastructure.

School officials and the Taylor School Board are still finalizing the scope of the project, but most of the work will involve replacing HVAC units at school buildings.

Superintendent Chris Smith said 85% of the project is HVAC work.

That includes classroom HVAC units at both the high school and middle schools. Some of the units date back to 1998.

Work is expected to hit every school building.

Replacing hot water mixing valves, iron filters and lift station pumps and controls are on the list for the high school, along with temperature control systems. Replacing the lighting in the library and furniture throughout the building is also on the list.

Much of what will be replaced is antiquated equipment. When that equipment breaks down, it leads to a problem many school districts with older buildings encounter: finding parts.

Smith said the main Taylor campus was without power after a March 31 tornado hit the area. New parts were needed for power controls.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to have school Monday or Tuesday (after the tornado), because we didn’t know if we could find parts,” Smith said last month.

Taylor schools was in the midst of school renovations in 1998 when a tornado necessitated even more improvements. High school students spent the entire 1998-99 school year in the annex building.

School officials hope to put new bleachers in the gym and replace the flooring in the media center, the main thoroughfare between the middle and high school.

Middle school HVAC units and upgrades to the cafetorium are on the list. Cafetorium improvements include both lunch and theater seating and new theatrical lights and sound system.

Remodeling restrooms will take up the bulk of the work at Taylor Elementary School. That includes restrooms for both students and staff.

School officials also want to remove the suspended ceiling from the elementary school gym, which frequently has tiles knocked out due to gym activities.

The playground could use some new equipment and better drainage.

“I want to put a nice playground in Indian Heights,” Smith said.

Replacement of lift stations, pumps, generators and doors are on the list for the annex building, along with some sidewalk and parking lot repairs.

The annex building is located on the main Taylor campus and houses the school district’s art academy, credit recovery program, band program and transportation department.

Work is expected to begin in summer 2024.


The $18.3 million figure will be split between three separate bonds. One for the high school, one for the middle school and one covering improvements to the elementary school and annex building.

School officials are aiming to spend between $5.6 million and $5.8 million at each school building. Costs of improvements at Taylor Elementary and the annex building are combined.

The project will not increase taxes as Taylor schools will fund the project through debt replacement, a common financing method.

Debt replacement involves schools taking on more debt when old debt is paid off. This keeps a stable tax rate.

School debt is paid via property taxes and come from a school corporation’s debt service fund. The debt service fund is one of the four main funds for schools.

Schools can only levy enough in taxes to cover the debt payments in a fiscal year. If a school has $1 million in debt payments for a year, it can only receive enough property tax revenue for its debt service fund to cover those payments.

That property tax revenue is separate from the property tax revenue received to fund operation expenses, such as new school buses. Those expenses are paid out of a separate fund.

If Taylor did not take on more debt, its tax rate would fall. School administrators prefer to keep a stable tax rate, taking on new debt when necessary. It makes multi-million-dollar projects possible without a referendum and keeps schools from asking taxpayers for more money later on.

Support drowns out opposition

The Taylor School Board decided to move forward with the project in March.

The financing method and magnitude of the project requires multiple public meetings, hearings and lots of paperwork. Put another way, there are lots of legal steps to check off.

Part of the process involves hearing from the community. That also took place in March.

Paula Davis and Jennifer Bowen, both Taylor Township residents, asked the school board to put the project up for referendum.

Davis, who heads the Howard County Chapter of Moms for Liberty, suggested surveying taxpayers about how the funds would be used, noting many students who live in the district do not attend Taylor, along with the school’s ILEARN and graduation rates, compared to the other county schools.

She claimed if those things don’t improve it will negatively affect property values.

“I don’t want my property values to decrease,” Davis said. “I want my property values to go up.”

Property values are up across the board and have risen in recent years. Davis’ home value has increased the last four years, according to property records.

Bowen echoed the request for a referendum and asked if the funds could be used for more educational purposes.

“If there are certain programs the kids can be exposed to, maybe hiring other staff outside the school time to help these kids really grow, that’s what I’d like to see,” she said.

Those comments, particularly Davis’, received pushback from those who spoke in favor of the project. The majority of those who offered public comment supported the improvements.

High school principal Steve Dishon was one of those who pushed back, noting the high poverty rate at Taylor schools. About 73% of the student body are in poverty.

“There is a lot of need that comes with that,” he said. “To measure a school or say whether they’re deserving of heat or air based on a test score seems ridiculous to me.”

Poverty and socio-economics often underscore school data points, including standardized test scores. Studies have found students in poverty perform worse on standardized tests.

This is due to a variety of factors, including not having basic needs met, such as clothing, shelter and food. Dropout rates increase among students who live in poverty, as well.

Board member Dennis Bentzler, a longtime Taylor community figure and coach, directly addressed the comments made by Davis.

“I’m somewhat appalled … A lot of these kids you guys brought up, I took home, I picked up, I had to feed, I had to get them help for homework, and I love these kids,” he said during the March meeting. “I resent the fact that people come into our school and put our kids down.”

His response was met with applause from the audience.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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