School improvements proposal moves forward

opinions

June 21, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Before too many months, USD 257 board members are likely to ask voters to approve a bond issue to make improvements to local schools.
The composition of the issue  is little more than a number of suggestions today; no firm proposal has caught fire with members of a citizens committee who have been meeting since early this year.
Discussions are trending toward a brand spanking new elementary school to replace the three neighborhood schools that have housed students since the end of the Great Depression.
Comments also have occurred about upgrading — through new structures or those in place being extensively remodeled — the high school complex. The third phase of any project that might surface would be the middle school, which was remodeled in the 1990s after upgrades were made to the high school.
Having been a participant at committee meetings, our impression is that a new elementary might find favor with voters, but forging into a larger project — such as the proposal for a campus at the north edge of town that was soundly defeated at the polls two-plus years ago — would complicate resonance with voters.
A  fact of life is that the school finance bill passed by the Legislature in the just-concluded session would provide 32 percent state funding for construction projects, a huge drop-off from what would have been available (51 percent) for the plan voters rejected.
Monday evening committee members were given overviews of two possible elementary sites.
One is north of the middle school encompassing 8, 13 or 19 acres, depending on which the BOE might embrace. The second is in the southeast part of Iola, including McKinley Elementary building and grounds.
 A third site that surfaced was 40 acres (give or take) northwest of Allen Community College.
It is instructive to remember none of these sites has been framed as a proposal, just possibilities. Each would require acquisition of private property, which the district could accomplish through eminent domain proceedings.
 
DAN WILLIS, a BOE member, has moderated committee meetings, and has shown exceptional skill in so doing. His ability to mesh conflicting ideas and keep those involved on target begs compliment.
The committee adjourned for four to six weeks, maybe more, to give each member and those who may ask (or volunteer) to join in time to consider what has occurred to date. Also, citizens are encouraged to make their thoughts known, by contacting Willis or, in public view, through letters to the Register.
Several things should prompt thoughts by district patrons.
— The elementary schools — Jefferson, Lincoln and McKinley — were built like fortresses, and because of that adjusting room sizes and connecting one to another or extending electrical lines to produce an environment compatible with delivery of today’s education is difficult, and expensive. All have flat roofs, which are certain to leak at one time or another. Heating and air-conditioning in all need upgrades. Many other aspects would provide for better opportunities for our children — and McKinley’s heating and cooling costs are a nightmare.
— If a new elementary is proposed — a good bet to hedge — site selection will be supremely important. Land for building (or buildings), playgrounds, parking lots and safe, easy access are top-drawer.
— The high school has some of the same issues as the elementaries; so does the middle school. The science building, across Cottonwood Street east of IHS, needs attention, least of which is that the laboratory areas are woefully inadequate.
 
WHAT THIS all boils down to is providing up-to-date and adequate — the key fiscal comment in the Kansas Supreme Court order for legislators to increase school funding — education for students in USD 257.
We trust board members will accept and propose a plan to do so within bounds of what is locally affordable. The next step is for voters to accept what is necessary to give kids their best opportunities to be prepared to find success as adults.

— Bob Johnson

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