Flory: Building trust essential for bond vote
Savannah Flory of LaHarpe was in fourth grade when the Gas Elementary School, where she attended, closed. Her parents had a decision to make: Should she go to school in Iola or Moran? The distance was about the same in either direction, but Iola was part of the same district as the former Gas and LaHarpe schools.
Flory’s parents sent her to Marmaton Valley schools in Moran because it was a smaller district and would be a better fit for her shy personality. Attending school in Moran meant she and other LaHarpe students gathered near the landfill every morning to meet the bus. A state law at the time wouldn’t allow an out-of-district bus stop, so the landfill was as close as they could get. The bus stop now is located within the LaHarpe city limits.
Flory missed her school at Gas, and she has fond memories of attending LaHarpe Elementary School from kindergarten to third grade. She remembers meeting her friends every morning to ride their bikes to school. When the Gas school closed, about a third of her classmates chose to attend school at Moran instead of Iola.
She graduated from Marmaton Valley High School in 2003. A few years later, her beloved LaHarpe Elementary School closed, too. She now has two children of her own, one who attends school in Iola.
So when USD 257 proposed building new elementary and high schools in 2014, Flory voted no. The proposed site would have meant closing Iola’s neighborhood schools, and the new schools would have been even farther away for Gas and LaHarpe residents. True, the distance wasn’t excessive, maybe a few more miles added to a round trip, but it was another painful reminder of what those communities had lost.
“LaHarpe residents are kind of familiar with what it’s like to have your neighborhood school shut down,” Flory said. “You feel a loyalty to your school that’s hard to give up.”
When USD 257 officials decided to study school facilities and perhaps pursue a new bond issue, school board president Dan Willis asked Flory to participate as a representative of the LaHarpe area.
She saw it as an opportunity to make sure LaHarpe and Gas students had a voice. In the end, the committee chose a site in eastern Iola near U.S. 54, just about as close as you can get to the district’s smaller towns while still within the Iola city limits.
BUT BEFORE she decided a new elementary was the answer, she favored remodeling the existing schools, determined to preserve the history embedded in those neighborhood schools. It didn’t take long, however, for Flory to become convinced there were too many challenges. Renovation would have cost nearly as much as building new. The schools were landlocked, and the district would have needed to take land and force people out of their homes. Even then, the schools still would face traffic safety issues with buses and vehicles in residential areas.
“We looked at a bunch of different options,” she said. “As much as we tried to make it happen, renovating those schools just did not make sense.”
A new building, on the other hand, could save the district between $300,000 to $500,000 in efficiencies in terms of utilities, resources and staff.
“It seems wrong not to build a new school,” Flory said. “There was a little bit of sadness when we let go of the idea of renovating. I hate seeing old buildings not being used as they were intended.”
She’s excited by a plan from Prairie Fire Development, which could use grants to renovate two of the three elementary schools as senior housing. The developers have access to grants that aren’t available to school districts, Flory said, and their plan would give those buildings new life.
Being part of the steering committee changed Flory’s mind on many issues, but she still tried to represent her friends and neighbors in LaHarpe and Gas.
“I want people to feel like they can trust the committee,” Flory said. “We had the best interest of the kids at the forefront of everything we did.”