SOUTH BEND — South Bend Community School Corp.’s dozens of buildings encompass more than 4 million square feet.
The South Bend-based architectural firm Hebard & Hebard has been hired to do a comprehensive study to determine the best use for all that space.
Because of an enrollment decline of more than 600 students this school year, along with other, more long-standing demographic trends, the options ultimately derived from the study could include redistricting and even closing a school.
Ken Hebard gave an update on the status of the facilities use study at Monday evening’s school board meeting.
The firm is now in the data collection phase of the process, he said.
That involves assessing the educational suitability of each building, along with its current condition and the future costs of upkeep and repairs.
The architects will also take into consideration student enrollment trends at each school.
Within the next two months, Hebard said, some options for potentially better and more cost-effective building uses will be developed.
Things like grade configurations, space needs for special and magnet programs and compliance to the consent decree will all be taken into consideration, he said.
Superintendent Carole Schmidt and the school board’s budget committee have discussed a possible building closure as one way to combat the district’s $10 million shortfall over the next two years.
That decision has been postponed, though, until the facilities study is complete. Schmidt has said the district also needs a strategic plan before moving forward with a potential building closure.
The school corporation’s administration has said closing a primary center would save some $400,000 annually and an intermediate center closure would save $700,000.
Hebard said community input is definitely part of the process, which will likely be complete by mid-March.
Overall, he told the board, the condition of the district’s buildings is good.
But that’s a two-edged sword, he said Tuesday, because it’s easier to close a building that’s in severe disrepair than one that’s not.
The firm is being paid $168,000 to develop the facilities use plan, which will include an assessment of every building, including schools, the administrative building, the service building and others, Hebard said.
The last time the school corporation undertook a comprehensive facilities study was in 2002.
That’s when Plan Z, a redistricting plan that resulted in the opening of a number of magnet schools, as well as a change in grade configurations, was conceived.
The school board separately recently hired CSO Architects from Indianapolis to study the feasibility of transforming the old Studebaker School building into a New Tech high school.
As part of the contract with CSO, the firm will also assess the old Gates building on Western Avenue for the same potential purposes.
For both, CSO is charging $9,000. That amount is being covered by donations to New Tech.
Staff writer Kim Kilbride: