Master school plan may be next

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August 23, 2017 - 12:00 AM

After meeting over several months, a group formed to study educational opportunities in USD 257 came to the consensus Monday night that new buildings at all grade levels would be an advantage.
That’s the easy part.
Making it happen is another story.
To that end Dan Willis, a school board member and moderator of the sessions, said he and others on the board would look at authorizing a master plan.
Representatives of the Wichita architectural firm Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey outlined such a course.
Ask teachers, administrators and citizens to help define needs, rather than wants, was the gist of their short presentation. Great efforts should be made to have citizens, parents and others, buy into what might occur. About six months would be required for a thorough airing.
That fits mechanics of the board. Three new members —  Darrell Catron ecently resigned because of health reasons and two others are running — will be elected in November, to join four holdovers. Their input should be considered before any decision is reached, Willis said.
Questions covered included: How much acreage would be required for a single elementary building; cost of acquiring property, cost of building new or renovating; how to excite voters and defuse opposition.
District voters have rejected four bond issues for new buildings in the past four decades, Willis said, including an all-inclusive plan in 2014. Issues to remodel the high school and middle school passed in 1988 and 1992.
Willis dwelt on what occurred in Fort Scott, where school and community organizers recognized voters had no stomach to raze and replace buildings, and agreed to pursue renovation. Fort Scott voters approved a $40 million bond issue with a rousing 57 percent of votes cast. “An exceptional community effort,” Willis said, that included more than 70 meetings and asked opponents “what would you support.”
Privately, Fort Scott administrators told an Iola delegation the renovation wasn’t on par with building new, but from all indications was what had the better chance of success.
“Two months ago we were racing toward a new elementary school,” Willis said, but then, with the Fort Scott experience fresh in mind, apprehension materialized.
With facts and figures galore, Willis demonstrated one new elementary school would be the more prudent approach, costing about the same as refitting existing schools. The downside, which gave him pause, was the enormous amount of land required for a single school and the likely action of eminent domain — always controversial.
Experts generally agree 15-18 acres would be required to put up a single-story elementary capable of meeting local needs; less, although, if it were two stories, a possibility that might draw attention.
But the newest of buildings is 80 years old, and suffers from extensive problems that are expensive to rectify. Remodeling often can be more costly than new construction, and “you still have an old building.”

TONY LEAVITT, soon to retire from the board, gave some perspective.
“Our capital outlay fund (all local money from as much as an 8-mill levy) isn’t enough” to generate revenue to meet a myriad of pressing needs among existing buildings, he said. Roofs, heating and air-conditioning, structural demands, just reconfiguring buildings to meet modern delivery of education far out-strip each year’s income.
“Eventually we’re going to have to pass something,” Leavitt said.
Perhaps by late winter, a more definitive record of what will be done to improve local schools will be floated for public consumption.
Either new, renovated and remodeled schools would be an improvement, with the burden on proponents to convince at least 51 percent of voters.

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