Superintendent hopeful turnout increases at bond issue forums
It appears the word is getting out.
On Feb. 26, the Tonganoxie school district held a community forum to discuss the district's proposed construction plans. But only about six people who were unaffiliated with the school or construction firms attended.
Last Tuesday, the district held a second community forum, which about 20 people attended. So the numbers are improving.
The district is looking at a proposed $25.6 million bond issue that would finance construction of a new 5-8 middle school on the district's 80 acres, transform the elementary school into a K-4 facility and rearrange the present junior high/high school campus into a 9-12 high school.
Richard Erickson, school superintendent, was pleased with last week's turnout.
"We just hope that with the next forum we'll continue to see a larger group," Erickson said. "That's our intent. We need to share our information with the public."
The next community forum is set for 7 p.m. April 5 at Tonganoxie Elementary School.
It's possible that at either the April or May board meeting, board members will take the next step, Erickson said.
"I'm hopeful that the board of education will have the opportunity to consider the proposal and hopefully approve it and move forward," Erickson said. "But that will be their decision."
If the school board decides to go ahead with construction, a bond election could be set as early as November. If voters approve the bond election, construction would be completed by the summer of 2007.
At Tuesday's community forum, the following questions were raised by those who attended:
- Will 5-6 grade students be separated from the 7-8 grade students at the 5-8 middle school?
Jim French, architect with DLR Group, the architectural firm hired by the district, said the intention is for these groups of students to have very little interaction with each other. The school building has not yet been designed, French said, noting it would even be possible to set up separate entrances for different grade levels.
"If there are changes or modifications that the community feels need to be made, these are possible at this point," he said.
- Will there be a covered walkway between the high school's two main buildings?
French said it would be possible to construct a covered walkway so students could go from one building to another with a roof over their heads. It was noted however, that if a new fine arts center and other classrooms are added on the west side of the existing high school, there will be less of a distance to walk to the other building (which is the current junior high school.)
- Will the addition on the north side of the high school take up parking spaces?
French said most of the space being considered is where there is grass, or modular classrooms that will be removed. The proposed construction will not cover any existing parking spaces.
- Would it be less expensive to tear the old high school down and start from scratch?
French said the present high school is a solid structure and has been well maintained. It would cost more to tear it down and rebuild than it would cost to add onto it, he said.
- What is the timeframe for an election and construction?
French said the board has until August to call an election, which could be scheduled for November.
"The thing to remember with this project is we can not move kids out of this building (the elementary school) until this mid-level school is built. It's going to be three years until we relieve the crowding."
If a bond election would pass in November, all the new construction would be completed by summer 2007, French said.
- How much would district taxpayers be paying of the bond issue?
Roger Edgar of the George K. Baum Co., said the state would be paying for 30 percent of the bond payments, and local taxpayers would pay the remaining 70 percent. The state's share of the $25.6 million would be $7.6 million.
The state also pays monies in the first two years after a new school is built. That would total about $800,000.
"When all is said and done, the state's share of this is about $8.4 million," said school board president Rick Lamb. "That's a tremendous incentive for school districts to build new schools."
When asked about the possibility of the state discontinuing school construction financial assistance, Edgar said: "There are no guarantees. The feedback that we've gotten is that any discussion of cutting back this program would be to cutting it to new districts entering the program."
So far, the discussion hasn't involved cutting back the state school construction aid to schools that are already receiving it, Edgar said.
One patron attending the meeting commented on the funds received from the state.
"You say that you get $7 million from the state," said Richard Reidel. "Well who pays that $7 million?"
French replied: "If you ask the people in Johnson County, they'll say they do. I think that 65 percent of the taxes come from Johnson County."