Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Committee sounds off on school construction

May 7, 2003

Whether its bells and whistles and bricks and mortar -- the talk of Tonganoxie's future school construction continues.

Last Wednesday night, 12 district patrons attended the USD 464 facility improvement committee meeting. Others there included school superintendent Richard Erickson and elementary school principal Jerry Daskoski, as well as the district's financial consultant and three representatives of the DLR architectural firm.

A year ago, the school district charged the DLR Group with the planning of and future school construction of a bond issue passes. The firm is working on a contingency basis.

Committee member Terrence Holton said voters won't approve construction if it seems to be aimed at improving the looks of a school. More specifically, one of the architect's plans includes remodeling the front of the high school so that it would be impressive to passersby on the highway as well as to those entering the school.

"People want to see classrooms, they don't want to see bells and whistles," Holton said. "Sure it looks grand and everything, but a new front isn't classroom space. If people have to spend the money, they want to spend it on new classrooms, not on a new entryway."

After meeting with the group for about an hour, during which time architects presented four construction plans for the grade school, a middle school and high school, patrons asked the architects to return with new plans in May.

The first three plans detailed on Wednesday were similar to plans introduced at the March meeting and covered in the April 2 edition of The Mirror. The fourth plan, which DLR Group architect Andy Anderson presented for the first time on Wednesday, entailed using the current elementary school for only grades kindergarten through four.

In this plan, fifth- and sixth-graders would be moved into a new two-story addition on the southwest area of the present junior high school, and ninth-graders would be moved to the high school. The high school would be remodeled to accommodate the ninth-graders, and a new gymnasium and more classrooms would be added. This plan, which would cost approximately $12.4 million, does not entail building anything on the district's 80 acres southeast of the intersection of Pleasant Street and Evans Road.

Back to the 80

Committee member Gene Becker said it would be a mistake to opt against building on the 80 acres. He noted that a sign on that land says the land is a future school building site. He said voters would be angry if the land's not used for that purpose.

"That sign is out there and it's in front of everybody," Becker said. "There will be somebody who will take a picture of that sign and put it on the front page of the paper for an ad and ask what did you buy that land for and the bond issue won't pass."

Kris Roberts, another district patron, noted that the elementary school, part of which was constructed in 1954, is past its prime.

"At some point the elementary school is not going to be efficient to operate anymore," Kris Roberts said. "I understand if we abandon a school there's going to be a hard time getting support for that."

Roberts suggested building a new elementary school on the 80 acres.

"You put those elementary kids out on 80 acres and you build a nice park out there," Roberts said. "They're the kids that need to be outside. Junior high kids don't go to recess and neither do high school kids."

Larry Easter, who works on the district's maintenance staff, said the voters wouldn't want to close the grade school.

"Fifteen years from now you could close the grade school," Easter said. "Now it will never fly. There's been a lot of money put in that facility and it looks nice and people know it looks nice -- they would never go for putting that much money into it and then walking away."

High school facelift

Richard Erickson raised the possibility of converting the present elementary school to a K-4 school, converting the present junior high school to a 5-8 school, and moving ninth graders in with grades 10-12 at a renovated high school.

"We don't need a new high school out on the 80 acres, we need to do what Basehor did at their high school," Erickson said. "Do a major facelift with some major remodeling."

Several patrons, including Alyssa Cruickshank, agreed.

"It's embarrassing to go to some of these other schools that look a whole lot nicer," Cruickshank said.

Erickson estimated costs at $2 million for renovation of the grade school, $3 or $4 million for renovation of the junior high and another $8 million or so for renovation and new construction at the high school.

Becker noted that Basehor has already had two failed school bond issues in 2003.

"They're going to need a new junior high and they're going to have to put their kids in facilities other than schools because they can't get their bond issues passed," Becker said.

Becker objected to planning construction in two phases, because, he said, voters would question the wisdom of spending more money after having just spent millions of dollars on construction.

"Let's don't do phase one now and phase two later," Becker said. "Let's just do phase two and let's get the bond issue passed so we've got a long-term solution."

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