• Register File Photo.
  • Darin Augustine, project engineer with SJCF Architects, responds to a question during discussion about a bond issue to build a new elementary school for USD 257.

School vote set for spring

The Iola Register

USD 257 school board members gave their stamp of approval for a new elementary school at the intersection of Monroe and Kentucky streets in Iola at their meeting Monday night. The vote was 6-1. 

The bond issue will now go before voters in the spring.

The decision included a change to previous plans, with members approving a regulation-size gymnasium that will allow the district to host league competitions. The larger gym includes an 84-foot basketball court with an additional 10 feet on the perimeter. Additional cost for the gym is $1.5 million, pushing the bond issue for a new elementary to $25.5 million.

Also on the bond issue are the options to build a new technology center and other improvements at the high school ($7 million), and improve the heating and cooling system at the middle school ($2.8 million).

Board members see the larger gym as a way to boost economic development by hosting athletic tournaments as well as serve as a backup community gymnasium to the gym in the Recreation Community Building in Riverside Park. That gym has flooded multiple times, including as recently as October, necessitating a new floor.

Board members raised a concern that insurance companies could refuse to cover the gym if it continues to be flooded. The recreation center is the site of numerous community activities such as dodgeball, volleyball, aerobics, and basketball, all of which have been displaced by the recent flooding.

Building a regulation-sized gym at the new elementary school also would require a larger parking lot at the site and additional restrooms. The gym would have about 300 seats (the original, elementary-school sized gym had no seating). The new plan would add between 3,000 to 3,500 square feet to the project.

It would not include a concessions area (the school cafeteria would be sufficient, Darin Augustine, project engineer with SJCF Architects, said). It also would not include locker rooms, but would include basic infrastructure to make it easier to add things like plumbing later.

The new elementary school, with the larger gym, would cost the owner of a $70,000 house about $10.48 in additional taxes. If voters approve all aspects of the project, the cost would be $14.17.

Board member Jennifer Taylor said she’s the one who pushed for the larger gym and believes it’s worth the extra cost.

“If we’re going to do this, we should do it right,” she said.

 

WITHOUT knowing the costs to remediate the property at Monroe and Kentucky streets caused Nancy Toland to be the lone vote against the resolution. Toland’s stance is a Catch 22. Without approving the go-ahead, district officials cannot have the soil tested.

Cleanup costs could range between $80,000 to $175,000 per acre foot, with estimates not expected to exceed $500,000.

Ryan Sparks, a member of the steering committee, said the worst-case scenario for the clean-up is still just a fraction of the total cost of the project. Committee members viewed the cost of the clean-up worth the benefit that it would bring to that area of the city and potentially spur future development.

It’s also possible state or federal assistance could offset some of the cleanup costs, Augustine said. It should take about 60 days to get results from core samples of the soil, but it wasn’t clear when that process would start.

The plan includes some flexibility to offset unforeseen circumstances, Augustine said. For example, the school could be moved to the opposite side of the property if remediation costs in that area are lower, or be moved to a new site if they prove prohibitive.

 

Survey results

Stacey Crusinbery, Iola Middle School counselor, presented a report on a student survey that looks at issues like bullying, sexual harassment, alcohol and cigarette use. The survey, Kansas Communities That Care, is an annual pulse of students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 and is offered through the Greenbush education cooperative. More middle school students tend to participate than high school students.

The report found little change in recent years when it came to issues like bullying and sexual harassment, she said. Thirteen students reported they “rarely or never” feel safe at school. Areas where bullying occur included the lunch room, on the bus, in the classroom, through technology and through texting. Texting was new this year, Crusinbery said, but the other areas have long been problem areas.

The schools educate students about bullying on a regular basis, Crusinbery said. Schools also have installed more cameras, monitor Chromebook usage and re-organized physical education classes.

Last week, Iola police officers and representatives from Hope Unlimited visited seventh graders to talk about sexual harassment because of an increase in those types of reports.

Students seemed to benefit from round-table type discussions on bullying, Crusinbery said, and she plans to organize more of those. Student-led initiatives tend to be more successful, she said.

Other highlights of the report:

The survey found more than half of students (56 percent) said they don’t know their neighbors or feel connected to their neighborhoods.

Eighth-graders seems to enjoy school less than other grades. Middle school students in general reported things like having fewer opportunities to talk to teachers and having less interesting classes, while high school students were more satisfied in those areas. Crusinbery believes that may be because the high school has added classes to meet student needs, such as technology programs. New classes at the middle school, including an introduction to agriculture class and robotics, may change that perception.

More students reported having suicidal thoughts compared to last year. The number of these students in Iola exceed the state average.

Alcohol and cigarette use continues to decrease. Only about 11 percent of students reported using alcohol and only 4 percent using cigarettes.

Crusinbery said she would like to offer more health classes, particularly at a younger age. Board members advised her to come up with a plan to implement those classes and they would consider it.

The district plans to bring in a national bullying instructor to speak to three age groups: elementary, middle and high school students. They also might add a session for adults.

 

IN OTHER news, the board:

-- Heard a presentation about a new state program, Kansans Can, to recognize student success. The state will no longer consider student test scores by grade or building levels but instead recognize the district as a whole. The system evaluates things like social-emotional growth, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study based on career interest, high school graduation rates and post-secondary success.

A new rating system features categories like gold, silver, bronze and copper levels. The Iola district has set its targets for the bronze and copper levels. Students have improved their test scores, especially in math, but fell short of the copper level, between 35.5 to 49 percent on state assessment tests. The district averaged 26.7 in math, 32.83 in English-language arts, and 31.99 in science. Last year’s scores were 21.5 in math, 33.1 in English and 39.7 in science.

-- Approved spending $23,000 on a new phonics system to help improve reading in grades 1-5.

-- Heard a report from board members who attended a state education convention. Highlights included workshops on high school internship programs, legal issues affecting school boards, a motivational speaker who talked about how to connect with students, and school bond issues.

-- Recognized Brad Crusinbery, Iola Middle School principal, who was named Kansas Association Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD) Health Educator of the Year Award at a ceremony Oct. 25 at Emporia State University.

 

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