Archive for Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Community forums set on school bond

January 28, 2004

During the next six weeks, the Tonganoxie school district plans to measure public sentiment for a bond issue.

Last week, Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson told 25 people at a facilities meeting that it's time to take action on conducting a bond election in November.

The next facilities meeting will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 19, and community forums to discuss the proposed plans with the public will be held Feb. 26 and March 11.

"That seems like an aggressive schedule, but folks, we've been at this thing for three years now," Erickson said. "I think it's time to move forward. We could discuss this thing for 20 years and we could develop 10 more plans in the next 20 years, but sometime we've got to make a decision."

District officials are looking at Option 5, a $25.6 million plan that would include:

  • Construction of a new middle school on the district's 80 acres southwest of Pleasant and Washington streets.
  • Renovation of the existing grade school into a K-3 facility.
  • Converting the junior high/high school campus into a 9-12 high school.

Erickson said school administrators believe Option 5 will address the district's educational needs for the next 15 to 20 years.

And, Erickson said, he believes voters may approve a bond election.

"I truly believe that we can pass a bond election if we're unified," Erickson said.

Erickson said he's been looking at potential yes votes in the district.

"If people have been strong supporters of education in the past, they're on my list, if people have grandchildren in the school district, they're on my list, if people have children in the school district, they're on my list," Erickson said. "So far I've got about 2,000 names on my list. If we're real organized ... if we're united, we have a shot at this thing."

Larry Meadows, a facilities committee member, said during the meeting that passing a bond election may be easier said than done.

"You've got to sell the public on that $25.6 million -- it's going to be hard," Meadows said. "... It's been a long time since we had a bond issue, I think the last one was $4 million and it took two hitches to get it sold."

While the major facets of Option 5 seems to have met approval of the school district, some people attending Thursday's meeting questioned the details.

For instance, John Poterbin asked if there was room to build a middle school west of the existing junior high school.

"It looks to me like there is adequate room, or it was designed to be there," Poterbin said.

He also suggested that the district construct a new high school, rather than a middle school, and that it be built at the present location of the high school.

Another member of the committee, Jim Truesdell, asked about the possibility of razing the existing high school and putting a new one in its place.

Jim French, architect with DLR Group, said that would cost more than Option 5.

"That probably would be even more expensive because we'd basically be taking a fairly large building out of existence," French said. "That plan would probably be $30 million."

French discussed Option 5 and its cost in a nutshell.

"It's a long-range plan with big dollar signs," French said. "We think it's important that we explain this to you. ... It's great to talk about all the building plans, but the bottom line for us is that you have got to tell us and the school board what the tax pain threshold is for this district."

Under the existing plan, French said, a $25.6 million bond would translate to a $233.83 annual tax increase on a $100,000 home. These figures take into account the fact that currently, the state of Kansas funds about 30 percent of the cost of new school construction, French said.

In turn, Meadows asked how much the district will seek to leverage.

"Will you go out for a $17 million or a $25 million bond issue?" Meadows asked.

Erickson replied, "I think we'll go after $25, but try to explain that the state will pay $8 million."

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