Science labs, athletic fields, and a planetarium: An IPS school waits on voters for funding

An artist rendering shows a science lab with student standing at high-rise tables. In the corner is a floor pen for small robots.
An artist’s rendering of a new science lab proposed for Arlington Middle School in Indianapolis Public Schools. The new lab is one of several upgrades the district hopes to convince voters to pay for through a $410 million tax measure on the May ballot. (Courtesy of Indianapolis Public Schools)

The planetarium at Arlington Middle School has been left unused for years, collecting dust as a storage space full of chairs, keyboards, and boxes. 

But if voters say yes to a $410 million ballot question in May, the abandoned gem — which was the first high school planetarium in Indiana when it was dedicated in 1965 — will be restored.

Indianapolis Public Schools’ proposed tax increase would pay for building improvements at Arlington and 22 other schools as the district rolls out its Rebuilding Stronger reorganization

The plan also aims to create a more efficiently run district with better academic offerings, close six schools, and offer specialized academic programming at others. 

Arlington Middle School’s planetarium has sat unused for years. If voters approve a ballot question in May, new funding will bring the space back to life. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Chalkbeat)

It also breaks up the district’s K-8 schools, creating distinct elementary and middle schools, so that students can receive better academic and extracurricular offerings — from band and world languages to softball and baseball. 

Arlington Middle School will receive $66 million if the ballot measure is successful, making it the single largest beneficiary among the 23 schools. Arlington would transform into a STEM school in 2024-25 and integrate the planetarium into the curriculum. The school would also add sixth grade to its existing seventh and eighth grades. 

It would also add an 81,000-square-foot, two-story addition, create a new media center and family resource center, and establish science labs and a makerspace. 

“The next chapter of Arlington is exciting because we get to write a new narrative,” said Principal Iesha Billups. 

The ballot measure’s revenue would also revive the school’s athletic fields, which were critical when the school served grades 7-12 but which students don’t use much now. 

The upgrades will transform those fields into high-quality, competition-ready fields. 

“When it’s done, kids will be able to practice six sports simultaneously across this space,” said IPS Chief Operations Officer Bill Murphy on Thursday morning, as he stood behind the school and looked over the fields. 

IPS Chief Operations Officer Bill Murphy explains proposed upgrades to Arlington Middle School’s athletic fields. Although the school has a softball field and tennis courts, middle school students don’t currently use them. Officials hope a $410 million capital referendum will change that. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Chalkbeat)

A key goal of the tax increase is to bring all elementary and middle schools into  good condition within the next eight years, so that those buildings only require  routine maintenance instead of massive investments involving HVAC or roof repairs. 

Officials say that more than 30% of the district’s are in “poor” condition, meaning the cost to renovate the building is between 30% and 40% of the cost to replace the entire building. A 2020 analysis commissioned by IPS reported that Arlington was in “good” condition, meaning that the cost of upgrades the school needs is only between 10% and 20% of the cost to replace the entire building

But Arlington, built in 1961, would still get upgrades to its roof, interior lighting, fire alarms, and cameras and security, Murphy said. 

“If you think about the student experience every day, showing up at a school that is too hot or too cold, that doesn’t have water that runs clean, clear, and quickly, is a real downer,” he said. “And these are the sorts of preconditions that set students up for success.”

Improvements at other schools include upgrades to enable Thomas Carr Howe Middle School to enroll students once again, and a new building at the site of Joyce Kilmer School 69. 

Early voting is currently available at the Indianapolis City-County Building, with additional sites opening on April 22. 

Election day is May 2. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Marion County residents can vote at any of the county’s voting centers

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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