Muncie residents question high school consolidation

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Muncie is consolidating its high schools to save money. Some residents question moving students after putting $25 million of renovations in one of the high schools.

The end of an era is coming to Muncie South Side High School. The class of 2014 will be the last to walk the halls of this newly remodeled campus where $25 million in top-to-bottom renovations were made.

"It was what architectures refer to as a "gut rehab" - that's where basically the entire building undergoes almost a 100 percent change," explained Tony Costello, a retired architect and the current school board president for Muncie Community Schools.

Come this fall, students who would have attended South Side High will instead enroll at rival Muncie Central across town, as part of a cost-cutting move.

"It's emotional. I understand," Costello told Eyewitness News. He says 49 percent of the land owned in the school taxing district is exempt. That means Muncie Community Schools doesn't get a dime from major employers like Ball State and IU-Ball Memorial Hospital.

"It is just trying to survive, and we could not as a board justify any longer maintaining two high schools," he said.

The idea of converting "Rebels" to "Bearcats" isn't sitting well with south side residents.

"They just did so much..and now to just lose it...what was the point of that money? It was just a waste," said Laura Murphy who lives on the south side.

"It's just..I don't know how to explain it. There's just been so much difference in how the kids are treated from the south side than the north side," added Dorothy King.

Superintendent Tim Heller blames declining enrollments at both schools for the school merger.

"No one wants to lose their school," he said, addressing community backlash.

Right now he says there are approximately 1,650 students almost evenly split between the two buildings.  One of the schools had to go.

"Southside High School is not big enough to house the entire student body," he explained, insisting the decision is a "wise use of our dollars."

Heller says with about $200,000 in improvements, Muncie Central will be ready to welcome its new south side student body.

He says several schools including Muncie Central will need new air conditioning in the years to come at a cost of about $8 million. But he says that money is not needed right now.

In the meantime, South Side will become a middle school and 25 committees will help the high school students transition.

Graduating seniors next year will get the option of whether their diplomas come from Muncie Central or Muncie South.

The one thing the committee can't change is the loss to a community that for 51 years built a reputation as "Rebels."