By JIM MISUNAS
LARNED — Fort Larned USD 495 passed its last school bond issue 20 years ago to build Larned Middle School. A previous bond issue failed in 2008.
“We learned from that failed bond issue,” said Jon Flint, Fort Larned superintendent. “We took ownership this time and informed and educated the community. We kept the community involved..”
The centerpiece for Fort Larned’s $22 million school construction project that voters approved is a new prekindergarten-through-grade 5 school building to be built near Toles and Broadway.
“When the bond issue passed, it was a highlight and an accomplishment of a lot of work behind the scenes,” Flint said. “It was great to see the community work together to support education. It was a highlight to see the community value an educational opportunity.”
Fifth-graders have moved to Larned Middle School because of lack of space at the aging elementary schools.
Fifth-graders from Larned Middle School will return to the elementary school in 2017. That will provide more space for the remaining grades at the middle school, while also placing fifth-graders back in a more appropriate setting.
“There was an overwhelming vote to move fifth-graders back into an elementary school setting,” Flint said.
The new property was donated by Tom and Sheryl Giessel, which saved the district thousands of dollars. Another donation of $250,000 will develop a new wellness center at the high school which will be shared with the community.
“Tom and Sheryl Giessel’s donation was an extremely generous gift, which will positively effect several generations,” said Flint. “They did was what best for their community. The wellness center donation will benefit everyone in the community. It’s something everyone will be proud of.”
Fort Larned USD 495 uses five buildings for elementary education, but the space was deemed inadequate, according to Brent Hemken, co-chairman for Foundation for the Future, which backed the bond issue.
“This is a positive step for all stake-holders, students, staff, parents, and community,” said Troy Langdon, Larned High School principal. “These new educational facilities will provide a safe place where our students can grow with 21st century skills as well as a place for wellness opportunities for all those who live in our community.”
Larned’s new elementary school will incorporate design aspects that feature Pawnee County’s past with the Fort Larned National Historic Site.
Architect Jeff Sherrard with Howard & Helmer Architects of Wichita has finished renderings that illustrate Larned’s new elementary school to be constructed between Toles and Broadway on the city’s north side.
“Early on, there was interest from the community to feature some of the local history,” Sherrard said. “It was very challenging to blend the past design with modern design elements.”
Sherrard said the elementary school will utilize stone that is similar to Fort Larned’s structure with a design that also incorporates elements from Fort Larned.
Wichita’s Simpson Construction has been hired as the construction management firm. The bidding process for sub-contracts is expected to start in December or January 2016. Sherrard said construction work will begin in early 2016 with the work to be completed in 2017.
“We have developed a very good relationship with our partners,” Flint said.
Sherrard said the building’s size and scope is similar to Plum Creek Elementary School in Hutchinson. Howard & Helmer has also designed similar school buildings in Haysville, Andover and Pittsburg.
At the high school, $5.1 million worth of improvements and additions, including construction of a multipurpose storm shelter and weight room/community fitness center, is planned.
State aid for the construction project is paying for 36 percent of the cost.
Wichita’s Piper Jaffray & Co. is handling the financial aspects of the bond. Piper Jaffray is a full service investment banking firm which specializes in providing municipal bond underwriting and financial advisory services to cities and other governmental entities.
The bonds were split into two sales, which will save the district an estimated $4.5 million. The split sale allowed the bonds to be sold as bank qualified. The $22 million bond will increase property taxes $93 annually for a $75,000 house; $204 annually for a $75,000 business and $72 for 160 acres of dryland crop land.