Soil testing results released soon



September 24, 2019 - 10:31 AM

Survey and soil testing markers dot property on the east side of a proposed location for a new elementary school. Results are expected to be released soon. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS

Two types of soil tests have been completed at the proposed site of a new elementary school at Kentucky and Monroe streets, though final results have not yet been released.

The USD 257 school board heard an update on the school bond project as they enjoyed a change of venue for their meeting Monday, gathering at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. The board, which serves as trustees for the Bowlus, used to have one of its meetings at the center each year, but hasn’t done so in years, board member Jennifer Taylor said previously.


VOTERS in April approved $35 million worth of school projects, including a new $25.5 million elementary school. The district has not yet purchased property at their desired location at Kentucky and Monroe, pending results from a variety of soil testing to determine if the land can be made safe.

The land was the site of an ironworks foundry and zinc smelting plant more than 100 years ago, and has some degree of lead contamination. Environmental testing was conducted in previous weeks and results have been submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. KDHE and Terracon, which conducted the testing, have finalized the report but the board hasn’t seen it, board president Dan Willis said.

KDHE also is working with the Environmental Protection Agency, which will determine what type of cleanup may be required. The EPA has contracted Veterans Worldwide to replace lead-contaminated soil at residential properties throughout Iola, and it’s possible the company will be tapped for the school site as well, Willis said.

“The state people are talking to the EPA people, including some of the local coordinators, Veterans Worldwide,” Willis said. “We’re moving the ball forward.”

On Monday morning, the board received a final report for geotechnical analysis at the site, which will determine if the land can support the weight of a school building or if they’ll need to construct supports such as concrete pilings. The report is 85 pages and will be turned over to engineers with SJCF Architects, which is working with USD 257. Willis said he hadn’t had a chance to review the report by Monday evening’s meeting, but expects to give the board an update at its next meeting Oct. 14.

The board also approved a contract with Coonrod & Associates of Wichita, which will serve as construction manager for the three projects. In addition to the elementary school, the district will build a new science and technology building at the Iola High School campus and replace aging heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school.


Strategic plan and board goals

Instructional coaches Brianna Curry and Jenna Higginbotham presented a document that combines and simplifies the board’s strategic plan and board goals.

The report is especially timely because it includes a framework for how teachers and staff will need to prepare for a move to a new elementary school in the fall of 2022. Such things include what new equipment they will need and what existing equipment or materials can be moved and what to do with the items they don’t take.

Another long-term goal includes how to create a secure entrance to the high school. Suggestions include swapping the locations of the library and the high school office. Safety goals include things like increasing the number of cameras in buildings, which is already underway.

Other facility improvements could include adding an electronic marquee to Iola Middle School and the new elementary school, similar to the marquee at Iola High School.

Communication needs to be improved between the district, parents and other interested parties, Curry and Higginbotham said. To that end, schools have introduced various programs to bring people into the schools, such as inviting relatives to eat breakfast with students.

Academic goals already underway include things such as increasing the number of preschool students, expanding Career and Technical Education programs such as welding or wind energy, and adding more career pathways for high school students.


In other news, the board:

— Discussed a new app, soon to be available for download, that parents and others can use to find information about the district or sign up for notifications for things such as emergencies or school closings. The app will include things such as calendars and alerts. Training is planned for teachers, who will introduce the app at parent-teacher conferences next month.

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