Chanute, Garnett talk schools’ impact

By

Ask the Register

February 20, 2019 - 10:39 AM

Garnett Elementary School

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.

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