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ECS considers repurposing Hawthorne Elementary School

Courtesy Elkhart Community Schools

At the Elkhart Community Schools Board’s public work session Tuesday, Superintendent Steve Thalheimer presented plans to repurpose Hawthorne Elementary School as a pre-K learning hub.

The proposal calls for all Hawthorne students and staff to be assigned to other schools, and for the pre-K program at Mary Beck Elementary to relocate to the newer part of Hawthorne’s building.

“Parts of that building would be utilized for pre-K and these other services, but it wouldn’t involve the same costs as running the entire school,” Thalheimer said.

Thalheimer said declining enrollment and staffing challenges mean ECS has to make better decisions about how to use its space.

He said it would cost upwards of $5 million to fully renovate Hawthorne as a K-6 school, but only $1 million to renovate part of it for an expanded pre-K center.

“The oldest portions of Hawthorne are from 1929,” Thalheimer said. “The costs and mechanicals and repairs within that building are accumulating to where we have to be aware of that.”

Thalheimer emphasized that the building’s age was the primary factor in the district’s decision to propose a repurposing — not its location. He added that all Hawthorne staff would have a position with the district after repurposing.

“A building doesn’t stand for that long without developing a legacy and connections. But also, a building builds a legacy like that because of the people that are in it,” Thalheimer said. “So what I would be asking is for the people that helped create that to be the same people who go forward and create a new legacy.”

If the board approves the repurposing, the district will conduct a feasibility study on how to expand pre-K offerings at Hawthorne. The study would also explore creating a “community hub” of family support services in the building.

Overall, Thalheimer said the proposal would save the district around $232,000 a year.

ECS will hold several community meetings about the proposal, the first of which is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2, at Hawthorne Elementary.

The board is expected to make a decision about the repurposing on Feb. 8.

Elkhart Community Schools is the licensee of WVPE.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.