Committee members talk site options


Local News

March 1, 2019 - 3:29 PM

Ray Maloney

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series of articles related to the April 2 USD 257 school bond referendum. You can read previous articles in the series here. )


Schools matter to a community. LaHarpe and Gas residents understand that as well as anyone, after schools in those towns closed within the past decade or so. 

LaHarpe resident Ray Maloney saw the effect it had on his town. A community baseball team soon folded, as players chose instead to join teams with newfound friends in places such as  Iola. Businesses closed. Friends separated as families chose to send students to schools in either Iola or Moran or Humboldt.

“When you lose your school, you lose a lot,” Maloney said. “You really lose your identity as a community.”

The closing left hard feelings. Maloney, for example, chose to send his children to school in the Marmaton Valley district in Moran instead of Iola “just because they made us mad.” Iola, LaHarpe and Gas are part of USD 257. LaHarpe is roughly equal distance from Iola and Moran.

“We probably shouldn’t have looked at it that way,” Maloney admitted. “But so many families went that way. And the kids still got a good education.”

Though those hard feelings likely have softened by now, they had an impact on where a new elementary school for USD 257 should be situated, as proposed in the April 2 school bond issue.

A steering committee that studied USD 257’s schools for more than a year chose a location at Kentucky and Monroe streets — about as far east as you can get and still be in the Iola city limits — in part because it was closer to Gas and LaHarpe.


IN DETERMINING the suitability of the site it’s difficult not to put the cart before the horse.

“It’s hard to tell how far to look into the future when the bond hasn’t been passed yet,” said Savannah Flory, a member of the committee working on the school project. “We want to be wise with district funds and not spend too much until we get concrete answers,” such as passage of the bond issue.

School board members have said they don’t want to spend taxpayer money by investing in land purchases or studies until voters decide April 2 whether to approve a school bond issue. The ballot will ask voters for authority to spend $25.5 million on a new elementary school for students in preschool through fifth grade; for $7 million to build a new science and technology center, with a new cafeteria, at the high school campus; and for $2.8 million to replace heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school.

Among issues still to be studied include remediation of the soil, as the site was once the location of an iron works foundry and a zinc smelting operation. Lead contamination has been found in soil throughout the Iola area, including at existing soil sites, but it’s believed to be worse in parts of the area surrounding the preferred site for the proposed elementary school.

The district is working with its architectural firm, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA’s contractor for soil remediation in Iola and the soil testing company Terracon Environmental Services to determine what extent of remediation is needed, where and how much it will cost.

It’s possible much or all of the expense could be covered by the EPA.

“This is a process Iolans have become accustomed to watching,” Dan Willis, president of USD 257 board of education, said of the EPA’s cleanup efforts.

If the district has to pay for soil remediation, the bond issue includes money to cover it. The uncertainty surrounding those issues is part of the reason the district has waited until after results of the election are known before it agrees to buy the land and clean up the soil.