NEW HAVEN – The former Harlan Elementary School could soon take on a new role as a possible conference and community center, athletic facility and area for businesses and educational opportunities.
The East Allen County Schools board on Tuesday unanimously approved the sale of the former school and grounds to Sunrise Chapel for $270,000.
"We are totally grateful for this decision. We consider it an answer to our prayers," Lael Barkman, senior pastor of Sunrise Chapel, said.
Barkman attended Tuesday's meeting and presented board members with a plan for the future of the building that included both imminent projects and a list of potential projects for the future.
On the to-do list is a conference center and community center that would provide much-needed space for programs, conferences and community activities, he said.
"For the community, there's nothing closer than downtown Fort Wayne when you're talking about hosting hundreds of people," Barkman said.
The church also hopes to use a portion of the building and grounds for athletic facilities, and another section to rent out space for community businesses or private schools that are overflowing.
And in the future, the possibilities are endless, Barkman told board members. Some ideas include a childcare facility, a fitness center, a rehabilitation center, a training center for the arts, a Christian bookstore and a coffee shop.
"We're excited to get started and see what we can do," he said.
The district closed Harlan Elementary at the end of the school year in 2011 and the building sat empty for two years per Indiana law. According to state law, public school districts are required to list vacant school buildings and make them available to charter schools for lease or purchase for two years.
After that period, board members agreed to accept bids for the building. The district received two bids – the first from Sunrise Chapel and the second from Rajesh Patel who hoped to use the space for an assisted living facility.
Patel offered $260,000 for the property, while Sunrise Chapel offered $270,000. Board members were expected to wait two weeks before making a final decision, but decided to vote Tuesday after hearing the plans for the future of the school.
Also on Tuesday, board members approved adding 16 additional cameras each to New Haven High School and Leo Junior-Senior High School.
The cost of the additional cameras will be covered by the district's already approved $2 million general obligation bond and a secure school safety grant, Business Manager Kirby Stahly said.
The district won't know the total cost of the cameras until the bidding process is complete, Stahly said, but it would not exceed $1.4 million.
Other projects to be completed by the general obligation bond – repaid with public tax dollars – include roofing projects at New Haven Intermediate, Cedarville Elementary and Service Center; a boiler project at Leo Junior-Senior High School; elevators at New Haven High School and New Haven Middle School; fire alarms at New Haven Middle School; asphalt at Leo Junior-Senior High; and window replacement and exterior lighting at Southwick Elementary.
The board approved by a 6-1 vote to add the 32 cameras, with board member Arden Hoffman voting in opposition. The district also plans to survey parents and the community about East Allen County Schools through a district climate survey that will be available online beginning Jan. 13.
Among other questions, the survey will ask parents about whether students feel safe at school, how quickly concerns and questions are addressed by EACS personnel and the level of satisfaction with academics, transportation and other issues.
The survey will be available at www.eacs.k12.in.us.