Archive for Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Two forums set on $25.6 million school bond issue

March 3, 2004

Currently, 4,916 registered voters live in the Tonganoxie school district.

But only 30 people attended Thursday night's community forum to learn more about a proposed $25.6 million school bond election.

And, of the 30 present, at least two dozen were affiliated with the school district or with the firms hired to lead the district through possible construction.

School superintendent Richard Erickson said Monday that he was disappointed in Thursday's turnout.

"I certainly would like to see many, many more people," Erickson said. "I'm hopeful that with the upcoming community forums we'll see a greater attendance."

Two other forums are scheduled -- both at 7 p.m. at the elementary school -- for March 9 and April 5.

The school district's proposed plan would include construction of a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres near Washington and Pleasant streets, remodeling of the existing grade school into a K-5 facility, and revamping of the junior high/high school campus into a 9-12 high school.

Although no date has been set for a bond election, school officials have indicated the likelihood of a November vote.

Any construction given the go-ahead by voters would not be ready for use until the start of the 2007-2008 school year.

At Thursday night's meeting, school officials and representatives of the DLR Group, an architectural firm hired on a contingency basis to lead the district through any construction, talked about the plan and answered questions from the public.

Jim French, architect with DLR Group, said the construction would fix the district's crowded conditions. He noted that the Tonganoxie Elementary School, with an enrollment of more than 800, is one of the largest grade schools in Kansas.

"The major issue that we have to deal with is just pure space," French said.

Dollars and cents

Here's an estimate of what it would cost to add that space:

  • New grade 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres near Washington and Pleasant streets: $14 million.
  • Construction and remodeling at Tonganoxie Elementary School, which would be converted to a K-4 school: $1.5 million.
  • Construction and remodeling to turn the present junior high/high school campus into a 9-12 high school: $10 million. Included in the proposed construction plan is a new 600-seat fine arts auditorium, a new lobby across the front of the existing high school and additional seating along the north side of the gym.

The construction is expected to accommodate the district's growth for at least 10 years, if current population increases continue, French said.

Right now, the district has 502 students in grades 9-12. The new high school's capacity will be 630.

The existing grade school building, which currently has about 805 students, would be trimmed to an enrollment of about 400 if it were changed to a K-4 school. The remodeled building, when taking into account the number of classrooms available for instruction, would have a capacity of 500 students.

"It would allow for eight to 12 years of growth before we hit the building's capacity again," French said.

The middle school will be constructed to hold between 675 and 800 students.

The school district is trying to hold classroom size to 20 to 22 students, French said. The middle school will be constructed so a new wing could be built for fourth-grade classes.

On campus and off

Mike Bogart, THS principal who will retire at the end of the school year, said he could see the construction proposal from the side of a school administrator as well as a resident of Tonganoxie.

"My role is changing -- my perspective is not changing," Bogart said.

Bogart noted the attributes of the existing junior high/high school campus, which would be consolidated into a 9-12 high school if voters approve a bond issue.

"For instance, you think about what is located there, starting with the soccer fields in Chieftain Park, Beatty Field across the street ... THS built in 1964, the current 7-9 softball fields and football field -- there's a lot there for grades 9-12," Bogart said. "If we were to build a new high school, we would be spending millions of dollars trying to replace things that are already there at the site."

The proposed school construction plan would benefit all grade levels, he said.

"Everyone gets a piece of this pie," Bogart said.

Then, talking about the elementary school's crowded conditions, Bogart added, "There are many concerned elementary parents and patrons, as they should be, about the space in this building and the number of young people coming here to get an education."

Communities are judged by their schools, he added.

"This is our community's doorstep ... it's symbolic of what our community stands for. I have many parents now checking out these schools these days before they move or build -- if we were to present an excellent curb appeal, I think you would be attracting those kinds of families that you want in this community by giving the school a facelift."

Seeking feedback

Tonganoxie resident Jack Wolfe suggested that the school could save money by using metal buildings for the new middle school. Wolfe estimated it would cost about $3 million less.

Metal buildings would cost about $90 per square foot of construction vs. the $125 for block construction, he said. And for safety during storms, Wolfe said, shelters could be built beneath concrete bleachers.

Wolfe said he, too, was disappointed so few people attended the meeting. He said it seems the school district has its plans set and doesn't plan to change.

"My thinking is they're not going to cut very much -- they're just going to tweak it, as they call it, and try to get people to buy it," Wolfe said. "Personally, I don't think it will pass, but I don't have a crystal ball."

It's important for more citizens to attend the community forums, Wolfe added.

"They're not going to listen to two or three people," Wolfe said. "They need 200 or 300 people there to express their opinions -- that's the only way they're going to get a true commitment from the community."

Erickson said that while the board has settled on this construction plan, that those involved in the planning process still want to hear comments from voters.

"I think there's some room for tweaking of our present plan," Erickson said. "And we're certainly listening to what our patrons have to say."

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