Archive for Wednesday, January 10, 2007

After year of work, schools nearly finished

January 10, 2007

When the school bell rang last Wednesday morning, students sat at their desks in Tonganoxie Middle School for the first time.

After years of planning and a little more than a year of construction, the $12.9 million new middle school -- for students in fifth-grade through eighth-grade -- was complete.

Across town, a $12.5 million construction project at the high school also was nearing completion. Students had been meeting in some of the new classrooms since August. The renovated and enlarged gymnasium had been used for some fall sports, and practice was being held in the new wrestling room. The school's new band room was complete, and finishing touches were being applied to a new state-of-the-art auditorium.

As part of the construction project, the district converted the former junior high and high school buildings into one four-year high school campus. During the students' winter break the district helped some of the high school teachers relocate their classrooms into the former junior high school.

Meanwhile, because fifth- and sixth-grade classes had been moved to the new middle school, space was freed up at Tonganoxie Elementary School. A portion of the work planned for TES has been finished, but most of the work will be done this summer. The grade school's construction will total about $1.4 million.

None of these changes could have happened without the support of district patrons who in November 2004, approved the district's $25.3 million school construction bond issue by a vote of 2,319 to 1,613. The construction is being financed with 25-year bonds.

The total cost of construction -- $26.8 million -- exceeded the bond issue by $1.5 million. According to Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson, the difference was made up with about $1,085,000 in interest income from the bond issue, as well as $415,000 from the district's capital outlay funds.

Growing community

The positive vote for the school's construction project reflected Tonganoxie's growth.

In 2001, after experiencing a decline in enrollment for five straight years, the district's enrollment increased by about seven students. Though it wasn't a huge number of additional students, Erickson, who had been with the district since 1996, said he felt positive about the increase.

"It's a sign of good things to come as far as enrollment in the district," Erickson said in 2001.

Erickson's prediction couldn't have been more on target.

During the 2001-2002 school year the district had 1,479 students. And enrollment has increased each year since. In September 2006, the official count had risen to 1,791.

On Monday, Erickson recalled his prediction about continued enrollment growth. His basis for the prediction was simple -- available housing.

"I believed that with the housing market and with the new construction that was taking place in the community that it was just a matter of time," Erickson said.

Largest elementary school

While enrollment gradually increased throughout the district, it was the elementary school that most felt the impact of the area's population growth.

With an enrollment of more than 800 students, it was one of the largest elementary schools in Kansas. In 2001, the district formed a committee of volunteers to formulate possible school construction plans. A key point for the district was that it owned land for a new school. In the early 1990s, the district purchased an 80-acre farmstead near Pleasant and Washington streets.

The new construction has allowed more breathing room at the elementary school. A year ago some of the kindergarten- through fourth-grade classrooms had 25 students. Now, Erickson said, class sizes

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