Archive for Wednesday, December 10, 2003

School officials debate size of bond issue

December 10, 2003

The price tag for Tonganoxie's planned school construction could run as high as $25 million.

But board members and architects would like to see that pared down.

¢ If a $25 million bond election were to pass in November 2004, the owner of a $100,000 home would see a tax increase of $249 annually. ¢ A $20 million bond issue would mean a tax increase of $187. ¢ A $15 million bond issue would raise that homeowner's taxes by $140.

"I would like to see us build something, but I think $25 million is excessive," board member Ron Moore said at Monday night's board meeting. "... I just don't know if $25 million will even have a chance of being approved."

Board member Richard Dean agreed.

"We've never passed a bond issue over $3 or $4 million -- I don't think," Dean said. "And that took some doing."

Dean was referring to an April 1986 vote in which voters approved a $2.5 million bond issue for a new junior high. Voters had rejected the bond issue two years earlier.

As presented at Monday night's board meeting, the architects' plans call for

  • $1.5 million in improvements at the elementary school.
  • $14.2 million for construction of a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres near Washington and Pleasant streets.
  • Almost $10 million in construction and renovation costs at the existing high school.

"It is truly what I would consider a long-range vision, addressing the enrollment needs of the district's growth. It also comes with a fairly high price tag," said Jim French, an architect with the DLR Group of Overland Park.

French said architects were working to trim the cost. It's likely, he added, that it could be reduced to $20 million.

New construction

The most expensive part of construction -- $14.2 million for a new middle school housing fifth- through eighth-graders -- would alleviate the grade school's overcrowding.

Currently, 806 students are enrolled in grades K-6.

"The biggest benefit of the reorganization of this district is that we take fifth- and sixth-grades out of this building, so what you're talking about is basically 10 classrooms becoming free at the elementary school," French said. "Considering the fact that you're one of the largest elementary schools in the state of Kansas, that's a good thing."

In the grade school's renovation, two of the 10 free classrooms would be taken up by other uses, such as student services.

In the event the school would become overcrowded again, French said the middle school would be constructed so that a fourth-grade wing could be added onto it. This would shift the grade school into a K-3 facility.

Highlights of the elementary school renovations include building a new prep kitchen at the site, and turning the stage area, now converted into a teachers' lounge, back into a stage. In the north gym, the fixed bleachers would be replaced with folding bleachers, and administrative offices would be revamped.

Future of 80 acres

Noting that a new middle school, parking and athletic fields would take up only about half of the district's 80-acre site, board members talked about the remaining land.

Ron Moore suggested selling it and using the proceeds to pay for installation of infrastructure, such as sewer and water, at the site.

Bob DeHoff agreed, saying it's likely that in the distant future, the school district may opt to build schools in other areas of the district, rather than continue to build them all in Tonganoxie.

"I think the size of the buildings that we're going to end up with are about as big as you'd want. So to me, it seems when you outgrow those buildings, you're looking at adding extra systems."

As part of the plan, the present junior high and high school would be converted into a campus for freshmen through seniors.

Additions and renovations to the high school would include removing the north wall of the gym to add a mezzanine with seating for 500. Also, an 11,530-square-foot performing arts center with seating for 500 would be built west of the gym.

A new lobby on the front of the school would be large enough to hold student dances. Other changes would include a new wing for vocal music and band, adjacent to the performing arts center, a vocational educational facility and new boys and girls locker rooms.

As the plans stand, the district's central office would remain in its present location, between the junior high and high school on the northwest corner of the high school parking lot.

What's next?

French told board members that for now, the architects' work is pretty much at a standstill.

"We're at the point where, unless the board wants to look at some more options ... we've done as much as we can," French said.

The next step, he said, is for the board to make decisions about a bond election.

"If your bond issue passes in November, even if I started construction in the spring of 2005, it's going to take at least 18 months to build the building," French said.

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