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    Garnett Elementary School
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    Matt Godinez, executive director of Chanute Regional Development Authority
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Chanute, Garnett talk schools’ impact

The Iola Register

“Right now, in the world of economic development, it’s all about placemaking. Good schools. Good parks. Good facilities. Having those things lined out for a company’s workforce is a big issue. It’s about creating an environment where a family wants to live.”

 

-Matt Godinez, Chanute economic development director

Matt Godinez grew up “on the wrong side of town” in Chanute. Now, as executive director of the Chanute Regional Development Authority, Godinez understands how school facilities impact a community. 

“The cohesiveness has been great,” Godinez said of Chanute’s transitioning from four elementary schools to a single site. “I’ve seen a lot more kids coming together and it evens the playing field, no matter what part of town you are from.”

That applies to the business community, too, he said.

Chanute built a new high school and new elementary school in 2008, and renovated the middle school, all from a $42.67 million bond issue passed in 2006. Since then, the city has welcomed the new industry Orizon Aerostructures. New housing developments were added. A new city sports complex is on the way.

“Right now, in the world of economic development, it’s all about placemaking. Good schools. Good parks. Good facilities,” Godinez said. “Having those things lined out for a company’s workforce is a big issue. It’s about creating an environment where a family wants to live.”

 

CHANUTE is an example of how a community can utilize new school facilities to boost economic development, in answer to this week’s “Ask the Register” question: “For towns like Iola that built a new school, what was the economic impact? Did the population decline slow?” The question was submitted by Rebecca Hale of Iola.

The question comes as voters in the Iola school district will decide April 2 on a bond issue whether to build a new elementary school for $25.5 million, with options to build a new science and technology building at the high school for $7 million and add new heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school for $2.8 million.

Godinez said it’s clear the schools had an impact on economic development. When Orizon chose Chanute for assembly and processing plants about three years ago, the education system was a factor, Godinez said.

“One of the big things they talked about was our collaboration with the school district and the community college,” he said. “Education is absolutely key. And I hate to say it’s undeniable, but there’s definitely a correlation between good facilities and good education.”

Schools are one of the first topics broached when city leaders attempt to woo company or medical professionals to town, he said. A tour of the school facilities typically is included in the recruitment process. 

Steve Parsons, superintendent of Chanute schools, said one indicator of economic growth is school enrollment numbers. Unlike many districts across the state, especially in southeast Kansas where enrollment numbers have declined in tandem with overall population, the Chanute school district witnessed a surge in enrollment. That growth has somewhat tapered, he said, but enrollment numbers are holding steady.

“Now it’s stable with a slight increase,” Parsons said. 

At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, Iola’s school district enrolled 40 fewer students from the previous year. Moran schools saw 10 fewer enroll, while Humboldt experienced an increase of one student.

 

THE IMPACT of a new elementary school in Garnett, to the north of Allen County, is more difficult to measure. Unlike Chanute, the Garnett area has not seen an industrial influx in recent years, but that may have more to do with economic development efforts or the lack thereof.

But just as it did for Chanute, a new school brought a dramatic increase in enrollment numbers immediately after it opened, Anderson County USD 365 Superintendent Don Blome said. The district built a new elementary school for $12.1 million and made improvements to other schools for a total bond issue of $14.1 million. The new elementary school opened in 2012. 

The new school continues to attract students, Blome said. Enrollment remains steady at the new elementary school but has declined at other buildings. The district has three elementary schools, in Garnett as well as smaller communities of Westphalia and Greeley.

The most obvious benefit of the new school is the savings it creates, especially in terms of utilities.

The previous, older elementary school’s heating expenses cost the district about $40,000 in natural gas each year, Blome said. Now, the new elementary school’s gas bill comes in around $8,000 to $9,000. The district has seen savings in other utilities like electricity, Blome said, but the gas bill is most notable.

The Chanute superintendent echoed Blome’s estimates of increased savings in utilities and other efficiencies. The new Chanute schools save money because fewer staff are needed, such as fewer custodians as the district consolidated four elementary schools into one. And even though the new elementary school is a large building, it’s more efficient in terms of utility costs, Parsons said.

In Garnett, the new elementary school also improves safety, Blome said. A separate bus loop improved traffic flow for parents who drop off and pick up students. Camera systems protect students and property. A secured entrance allows the school to control access to the building.

The building uses a pod structure, with classrooms surrounding a central gathering spot for different grade levels. That allows classes to come together to work on projects, and has provided new opportunities in STEM education, Blome said.

Attitudes also have changed, Blome said. Students interact more with their peers because of the pod system. They also seem to take good care of the building.

“There’s a pride about that building, not just students but staff,” Blome said.

 

POPULATION in southeast Kansas has declined for decades, and that trend appears unlikely to reverse itself without major intervention.

A 2017 statistical report from the Institute for Policy & Social Research at Kansas State University predicts Allen County’s population will decrease by 31.5 percent between 2014 and 2044, down from 12,909 in 2014 to just 8,839 by 2044. All southeast Kansas counties except Crawford, home to Pittsburg State University, are expected to see significant population declines. Anderson County is expected to lose 9.3 percent of its population, while Chautauqua County is expected to lose 63.4 percent of its population. Neosho County, home of Chanute, is expected to lose 18.2 percent of its population.

Between 2000 and 2010, Allen County lost 7 percent of its population. Between 2010 and 2017, the county’s population decline was similar, with a decrease of 6.37 percent. 

Those declines reflect a nationwide trend for rural areas in middle America, the report shows. Reports attribute much of the population decline on a lack of education and economic opportunities for young people, often called “brain drain.”

VOTING FOR the next Ask The Register question runs through midnight tonight. Visit Ask The Register to vote.

This week’s questions:

 

— What’s Iola’s population? Would a new school bring new jobs to an area that has no workforce available? -Tom, KC

— Will the City of Iola extend the Mo-Pac Trail, build the MKT Trail, and improve crosswalks by the new school? -Randy Rasa, Iola

— Have there been proposals for speed islands on Kentucky to slow traffic around the proposed school site? -Steven Henderson, Iola

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