COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County Consolidated Schools is one step closer to breaking ground on its new Columbia City High School building this summer.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the school’s design plans, and the job will now open for contractors to bid on construction projects.

“This is a momentous evening,” said Chuck Tyler, architect for Fanning-Howey. “Now it’s time to take the next step in the process.”

The site, located south of Columbia City on S.R. 9, is now an empty field but will soon house 249,971 square feet of high school building and 18,000 square feet in outbuildings.

The total cost of construction is estimated at $68,147,225 — broken down to slightly over $50 million for the high school’s main building and $17.5 million in outbuildings and site work.

Architects noted that the cost is only an estimate, and a more definitive number will be available after the construction managers accept bids.

In 2015, the Whitley County community approved an $85 million referendum to construct the new school, which replaces the nearly 60-year old school on North Whitley Street in Columbia City.

A portion of that $85 million will be used to demolish the old building. Officials have indicated that the current school property may be donated to the Columbia City Parks Department to be an extension of Morsches Park.

Additionally, some of the referendum money will go toward, “the cost of doing business,” such as financial and architecture work.

After all bids are received on April 26, Skillman Corporation, which is in charge of construction, will make selections.

The project breaks ground in June, and will be completed in the summer of 2020, opening for students in the fall.

The new school will have two unique outdoor learning areas — one is a courtyard at the interior of the school which will provide sunlight to the classrooms, and allow for usable, safe, outdoor space within the walls of the school. O’Connor said officials are also considering an outdoor classroom, which would have a more scenic view of the wooded areas and retention pond near the school.

Also outdoors, officials have finalized details press boxes at the athletic fields, fencing and signage to help direct visitors.

The new football field will feature two-tone artificial turf to simulate real grass. Officials determined that the cost of an artificial field would be identical to a grass field when maintenance costs over 20 years are factored.

The school has three sections — the gymnasium and athletics area, the auditorium and cafeteria, and the academic classrooms.

The auditorium will seat 636 people, and the new gymnasium will seat 3,000.

The cafeteria, called the Blue River Cafe, will have a unique and open serving concept, “for students to take advantage of a wide variety of offerings,” Tyler said.

Eagle Tech Academy, which is currently housed in the former Marshal Middle School building, will be incorporated into the new building, but have a separate entrance and different learning spaces.

There are also common areas and “collaboration spaces” for students that can also be used by the public when they come to the school for events in the auditorium.

“We want to make smart decisions,” O’Connor said. “The goal is to look to the future.”

A new entrance will be added to the north side of the campus, and a digital sign will be installed at the current Indian Springs Middle School and Little Turtle entrance, which will soon serve all three schools.

Visit buildingcchs.com for more information about the construction project.