Carmel Clay Schools hits pause on plan to rework Orchard Park site

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Carmel Clay Schools has paused a plan to demolish a majority of the former Orchard Park Elementary building and use the remainder for employee child care.

The $3 million project was set to be part of a $39 million bond to fund various upgrades throughout the district, but CCS removed the OPE proposal in advance of a public hearing on the bond at a Feb. 13 school board meeting.

In a statement, CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said the district made the change in response to the state’s dollar law, which requires former school buildings be offered for $1 to charter schools under certain conditions.

“Carmel Clay Schools has placed plans for the Orchard Park site on hold as we ensure continued compliance with current law,” he stated.

The change comes less than two weeks after Indiana Classical Schools filed a motion Feb. 3 in Hamilton County court asking a judge to reconsider a January ruling that stated CCS did not violate the dollar law in not offering OPE to charter schools. ICS, which is eyeing OPE as a site to open Valor Classical Academy, sued CCS in April 2022 and is considering whether to appeal.

In the Feb. 3 motion, Valor states that the CCS plan to demolish parts of OPE and use the remainder for other purposes should trigger the dollar law and that the district’s changing plans for the building show it doesn’t need the space for storage and other current uses.

“With each following (Carmel Clay Schools board) meeting, the anticipated use of the building changes and expands to the point that now a K-5 sized portion of the building will be ‘demolished’ without any notice being provided to interested charter schools,” the motion states. “This behavior will send a message that public schools do not have to comply with the Dollar Law, and that indeed they can skirt the same by simply concealing their true intentions until the ‘storm has passed.’”

According to Indiana trial rules, a party may seek correction of a record before filing an appeal when newly discovered material evidence becomes available within 30 days of a judge’s ruling, the motion states.

As CCS and Valor battle in court, the dollar law has become a topic of discussion in the state legislature this session. A bill under consideration in the senate provides greater specificity than existing law about when a building must be offered to charter schools. It also sets a civil penalty for districts that fail to comply with the law and moves review of whether a building should be closed from the Indiana Attorney General to the Indiana Dept. of Education.

“As lawmakers continually try to improve state law, we always encourage prioritizing local governance, particularly when it impacts property taxpayers,” Beresford stated. “We hope to do our part to substantially benefit the property taxpayers in the Orchard Park neighborhood and throughout Carmel Clay Schools.”

Holly Wilson, a Valor founding board member, said she is concerned the senate bill as proposed “muddies the water more” and that she would prefer to see a clear definition of when a building is no longer in use.

Since closing OPE at the end of the 2020-21 school year, CCS has been using the building for storage and training.

CCS plans to conduct a second public hearing on the $39 million bond at its Feb. 27 meeting.

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