School choice: District seeks bids for buildings

USD 257 set a Jan. 31 deadline for proposals on what to do with three existing grade school properties. The buildings will be abandoned when a new Iola Elementary School opens this fall.

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January 20, 2022 - 9:39 AM

Jefferson Elementary School is one of three buildings USD 257 is offering for bids. The school buildings will be abandoned when a new Iola Elementary School opens next fall. The district is asking for proposals to purchase the buildings and the buyers’ intended plans. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

As construction progresses on Iola’s new elementary school — it’s scheduled to open in August — the district’s focus shifts once again to the fate of the three existing grade school properties.

Bids will be accepted for the three properties until 4 p.m. Jan. 31 so that USD 257 school board members can decide their fate at the BOE’s Feb. 14 meeting.

The plan is to sign over the properties in October.

Superintendent of Schools Stacey Fager said the district has fielded several inquiries about the properties, and that he’s optimistic whoever takes ownership will have uses that serve both the district and community well.

A few notes of interest:

The district will be able to reject any and all bids if they’re not considered up to snuff, and may negotiate further with any of the bidders.

Jefferson Elementary School.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

The district will sell to the bidder “it deems in the best interest of the District, which may or may not be the highest financial bid,” according to a public notice the district has run for the past several days in the Register.

“The Board is interested in a development plan that will add value to the community” and “predict a well-maintained and attractive development into the future,” the notice reads.

Lincoln Elementary School.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
Lincoln Elementary School.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

In addition to the bids, each bidder must submit a detailed written description to detail its proposed use in light of current or proposed zoning.

The plans also must include whether the schools will be kept largely unchanged, remodeled or rebuilt, or torn down altogether.

In Chanute, four elementary schools were closed upon the opening of a consolidated school in 2008.

One of the four, Lincoln, was kept by the district and converted into a preschool and office space for support operations. Two others, Hutton and Alcott, were sold to local churches. The fourth, Murray Hill, was sold to a private developer and converted to a senior living facility.

There, the district placed bus stops at each of the old school sites so that students could be picked up and transported to the new elementary school.

Iola school officials are considering such a plan as well.

McKinley Elementary School.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register
McKinley Elementary School.Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

THE FATE of the three buildings was a key factor when Iolans approved the new school’s construction in 2019.

Prior to the vote, Randy Manes, with Prairie Fire Development Group out of Kansas City, Mo., explained how both Lincoln, 700 N. Jefferson Ave., and McKinley, 209 S. Kentucky St., would be ideal for a senior housing complex, while Jefferson, 300 S. Jefferson Ave.,  would be more suitable for office space because of its proximity to downtown Iola.

Jefferson and Lincoln were built as part of Works Progress Administration projects in 1939, while McKinley — the smallest of the three — opened in 1950.

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