April 21, 2022

Franklin Township Schools seeking $98M referendum for high school expansion

Franklin Central High School opened in 1974 and has undergone multiple additions and renovations. The district lists its current condition as fair. - (Franklin Township Community Schools)

Franklin Central High School opened in 1974 and has undergone multiple additions and renovations. The district lists its current condition as fair.

(Franklin Township Community Schools)

On the southeast side of Marion County, the Franklin Township Community School Corporation is asking voters to approve a nearly $100 million property tax referendum in the May primary. The construction referendum would allow the school to build an additional wing to the 50-year-old Franklin Central High School and make improvements at six elementary schools.

If approved, property owners would pay about 21 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The referendum would generate $98.4 million over 22 years with most of it going toward expanding the high school. About $9.5 million would cover construction costs at the other schools and bond issuance costs.  

Franklin Township Schools Chief Operating Officer Fred McWhorter said the high school’s aging facility and the district’s rapidly increasing enrollment means it's time to expand. Since 2017 the district has gained nearly 2,000 students. Enrollment is 11,139, according to state data. According to a projected enrollment report released in November, the district’s enrollment is expected to grow 2-3 percent annually over the next several years.

If approved, the referendum would be the first time voters approved a property tax increase for district construction. Three previous general fund referendums were rejected by voters — twice in 2009 and once in 2011. Franklin Township is the only one out of 11 Marion County school districts that has not passed a property tax referendum.

Why the district needs to add more facilities

Franklin Central High School has undergone multiple renovations over the past few decades, with additions such as the Freshman Academy. But the original building is no longer meeting students’ needs.

McWhorter said the facility needs electrical, plumbing, air conditioning and roofing repairs. For example, McWhorter said some of the carpeting and walls need to be replaced and bathroom interiors need to be renovated.

“In order to get to some of these things like the plumbing, you gotta go through the wall or the ceiling in order to get to it,” McWhorter said. “So we're seeing more and more maintenance issues pop up because of the aging facilities, and this renovation will help address those issues moving forward.”

Also, some of the classrooms don’t support modern learning strategies and still have chalkboards instead of whiteboards.

If voters approve the referendum, the high school will get a new wing on the south side of the building. The district will also renovate roughly 75 percent of the building, except for the Freshman Academy, to reconfigure the technology and science areas, as well as expand some of the performing arts space.

The following elementary schools would also be upgraded with various improvements such as playground equipment, fencing and sidewalks, depending on the need:

  • Acton Elementary School
  • Arlington Elementary School
  • Bunker Hill Elementary School
  • Mary Adams Elementary School
  • South Creek Elementary School
  • Thompson Crossing Elementary

McWhorter said he hasn’t heard of any formal opposition so far. But he said even if the referendum doesn't pass, these issues won’t go away.

“We'll essentially have to come back again,” McWhorter said. “But what we can promise, and what we know is a fact, is this is going to cost more later. And so with construction, inflation, [and] interest rates rising, it just makes sense to do it now, while we're still in a low interest rate environment and before and to avoid construction inflation as well.”

Early voting is underway. For information on how to vote or see a sample ballot go to the Marion County Election Board website. Primary Election Day is May 3.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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