By MATT KOESTERS
A meeting this week between members of the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission and officials from Clarksville Community School Corporation left school officials feeling less confident about the possibility of locating a New Tech high school in the old Value City property off Eastern Boulevard.
“I was a little frustrated, I guess [being] very honest with you,” Clarksville schools Superintendent Kim Knott said. “We have been having these conversations for some time now, probably about two years, with redevelopment and members of town council on the possibility of New Tech. We’ve taken many council members and redevelopment members to New Tech sites to see what it’s all about [and] how the model can promote economic redevelopment in the area.”
Bob Popp, president of the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission and a town council member, pointed out that while talks between the town and the school corporation have been ongoing, this meeting was only the second he’d been involved with. More information is needed from the school corporation about the cost of the project before the town or the redevelopment commission can pledge the use of the 11.1-acre, redevelopment-owned former Value City property.
“So much of the talk has been that some members or all the members of the town are opposed to a tech school. That’s not right,” Popp said. “But before anything, before the town can make any commitments, we have to have numbers. You can use as much verbiage as you want, but when it gets down to what can be done, numbers have to be provided.”
While Popp says he has not seen a proposal from Clarksville schools regarding the cost of a potential New Tech school at the Value City property, Knott said that the town has been provided with financial information.
Clarksville schools signed a franchise agreement with the New Tech Network in December to open a school using the network’s model, which is problem-based, project-based and focuses on student engagement.
“I had provided information on the renovation costs after a previous meeting that they had asked for, and I had submitted that a couple months ago to the town officials and to their financial folks,” Knott said. “And I would have assumed that the financial information was on that original document [but], for whatever reason, they needed more information.”
The renovation of the former Value City Department Store building would cost about $5.5 million over three to four years, Knott said. She said the school corporation is willing to pay for the interior renovations to the building, but has asked the town for help with the building’s exterior. Knott says Clarksville schools-paid engineers estimate the cost of exterior renovations at $1.2 million.
Clarksville schools Board of Trustees President Bill Wilson said he recognizes that there are some new faces at the negotiating table.
“People have changed, OK? You’ve got some different people on redevelopment, different people on the town council, but there have been ongoing discussions for a long time on the possibility of us using that building and we thought we were making some headway. And I’m not sure where we are right now,” Wilson said. “We’re going to come back with a proposal, obviously, but there again, some of the things I was hearing ... bothered me. I’m not sure where it was going.”
The Value City property was originally purchased by the town’s redevelopment commission to help with the viability of the Clarksville Little League Park, Popp said, and the park remains a priority for the town. Nearby access and parking is owned by The Salvation Army, Popp said.
“At a minimum, we need a practice field so that the kids do not have to practice on the [main] field. We need probably a football, soccer [field],” Popp said. “This would be the Little Generals. Now the Little Generals are currently using the high school and that’s good, but I think the town should always have space available in case their space that they’re using that you do not own would [not] be available.”
Popp also expressed concern about the New Tech school taking students — and therefore, revenue — from other school corporations, as Greater Clark County Schools and West Clark Community Schools also draw students from the town.
“What is a plus for one school system can definitely be a negative for the others. Now, I guess if I had my druthers, I would sure like to see Clarksville, Greater Clark and West Clark working together and somehow allowing students to attend this tech school where they would not be losing money,” Popp said. “In other words, a cooperation, a partnering of the school systems — it would be great if you had a tech school where you would not have just in one school system but they actually would be working with one another and not taking dollars from the other ones’ budget.”
NEW TECH’S FUTURE WITHOUT VALUE CITY
As for New Tech, if Value City isn’t a viable option, Clarksville schools will have to consider using Clarksville Middle School to house the new learning model, Wilson said.
There are numerous problems with using the middle school, and several millions of dollars would have to be spent to bring the building up to code, which could mean a new tax rate being imposed on those in the Clarksville schools district.
“We don’t want to get into that,” Wilson said. “If we can use the Value City facility, we can phase things in.”
Wilson pointed out that the school system’s financial situation will improve in 2016 with the retirement of a bond issue for Clarksville High School.
“It gives us so much more flexibility that we won’t have to do anything or even look at anything with taxes, which we don’t want to do,” Wilson said.
MAINSTREET AND MONEY
Knott also is frustrated that the redevelopment commission is looking to invest about the same amount elsewhere as it would spend to renovate the exterior of the former Value City building.
“Redevelopment members, and Mr. Popp in particular, noted that there is over a million dollars that is going to be given to a retirement community to locate out on Progress Road behind the Walmart area,” Knott said. “... That’s a hefty amount of money to recruit a business that’s going to bring in $7- and $8-an-hour jobs.”
Popp disputes that the development — which had its district development plan approved by the Clarksville Plan Commission on March 6 — would be the source of low-paying jobs, but conceded that the development company — Mainstreet — has requested $1.1 million from the redevelopment commission.
“I’m not denying those numbers, quite frankly. Those should have been confidential at this time ... ,” Popp said. “But that is the number that we’re currently discussing. Once we get the impact study, any further negotiations, which we’re still working with ... it is probably going to be around that number. We’re talking about a $14 million investment there.”
The Mainstreet complex could add up to 125 jobs with a payroll of up to $4 million, said Clarksville Redevelopment Director Nick Lawrence, but he added that an economic impact report on the project is still being developed.
“You can kind of get an idea of what an average wage would look like, what an average salary would look like just by doing the math,” Lawrence said. “You’re probably looking at skilled and semi-skilled nursing type jobs, CNA jobs as well. I’m working to get a breakdown of what that would look like as well.”
A payroll of $4 million with 125 positions equals a salary of $32,000 annually per person.
Mainstreet will not operate the complex, and instead would use a third-party operator, Lawrence said.
“It seems to be a very positive project,” Lawrence said. “We’re happy to see a private industry come in and commit to a project of that size and that capital investment, and we’re excited by the possibility of their location here.”
Mainstreet wants to begin construction in May, Lawrence said.