The price tag for facility upgrades at Great Bend USD 428 is already less than half of what it could have been. But before the school board settles on a long-range master plan and asks taxpayers to support a bond issue, it’s expected even more items recommended by SJCF Architects will be eliminated or deferred to “Phase 2” or even “Phase 3.”
The school board held a special meeting Monday to study the latest master plan recommendation. Members agreed they want something that taxpayers can support without being shortsighted.
Superintendent Khris Thexton said the latest cost estimate for “Phase 1” – doing everything currently recommended by SJCF – would still cost $53 million, which would require a local tax increase of 16 mills. People would not vote for such a large tax increase, he said.
But there were several items he said could be eliminated from the plans, including a $6 million transportation and maintenance center on land next to the District Education Center. A more modest bus barn could be built for less than $3 million using capital outlay money, so it wouldn’t have to be part of a bond issue at all, he suggested.
“(Assistant Superintendent John Popp) and I have been going through this and trying to decide what our wants are and what are our needs,” Thexton said.
One of the biggest projects is Great Bend Middle School.
Adding another safe room and a wing of sixth-grade classrooms at GBMS would be the first step in creating more space in the elementary schools. By moving sixth graders, all five elementary schools could offer preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children, as Riley Elementary does at present.
Suggested remodeling of existing GBMS classrooms isn’t really needed, Popp said. “There’s nothing really wrong with any of the classrooms,” he said.
GBMS also needs more cafeteria space and a better drop-off/pick-up site for students, administrators said.
Beyond that, board members had questions about an odd-shaped interior courtyard in the drawing. Thexton said the drawings and the cost estimates are still in a preliminary stage.
“I don’t think you’ll see any true drawings until something passes,” he said. Likewise, “until they actually put pen to paper, we can’t guess the (actual) cost.” He later added that the architects have tried to err on the side of caution and they don’t want to underestimate the cost.
Board member Cheryl Rugan asked if Thexton has taken the latest recommendation to building principals. “After the PAC Center (was built), there were complaints from coaches and principals that they weren’t asked,” she said.
Expanding the Panther Activity Center is part of the recommendation to Great Bend High School. Thexton said other priorities are adding a storm shelter, a secure front entrance and a place to the orchestra (which could also be the storm shelter). Other suggested additions aren’t necessarily needed, he said.
“I don’t think the high school needs a whole lot done to it,” he said. The last bond issue 20 years ago led to major improvements at the high school, he added. “I think they’re in pretty good shape right now.”
Washington Ed Center
Part of the Washington Early Education Center is 100 years old and the recommendation is to tear down the old and replace it. The newer gym will stay.
“All I know is that old part has to go,” Thexton said. “It’s not financially sound to keep it.”
Special Services Director Christie Gerdes attended the meeting to talk about what kind of space and security is needed for the special education program.
Board member Jacquie Disque said she’s heard from constituents who say getting rid of the old part of Washington (something proposed in past plans) is important to them.
“This is the big stickler; I’ve been told if we don’t do something they won’t vote for anything ever again,” she said.
There were questions from all seven board members. Lori Reneau said people have asked why district school buses need to be moved indoors.
“They don’t have to be entirely inside to be more secure and out of the weather,” Thexton said. “That’s a possibility we can start looking into.”
Other suggestions from the architect are less likely to make it to the final draft, at least for Phase 1 and a possible bond question.
“We’ve tried to be considerate of the taxpayer,” Rugan said, but she said the board doesn’t want to be shortsighted, either. “We have time to go back and talk to (the architects) and get more specific on price.”
“There’s a lot of information here,” Thexton said. “You might as well do something that people will be OK with. People will be concerned about the cost — I get it.”
Board member Susan Young said, “The public needs to see we are really working to pare this back.” What was once a possible $90 million to $110 million proposal is now taking shape for under $50 million.