Community members had a chance to ask questions and get a closer look at what the money will go for if voters approve almost $45 million in bonds for Great Bend USD 428 in the coming weeks. Public meetings were held Tuesday at the Front Door Facility and Wednesday at Great Bend High School.
Supporters known as the Committee for Safe Schools are calling this “The Facilities Improvement Bond.” This political organization operates independently from the school district but members were on hand with signs encouraging people to “Vote Yes for GB,” which is also the name of a Facebook page. Members have also been helping people register to vote.
Great Bend USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton reminded voters that information is also available on the district website and that the school buildings and the bus barn/maintenance building will be open for tours this Sunday, Aug. 4, from 2-4 p.m.
Ballots will be mailed to voters who live within the boundaries of the school district on Aug. 20. For this election, the last day people can register to vote is Tuesday, Aug. 6. After people receive their ballots, they can mail them to the courthouse in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided with the ballot or they can hand-deliver them to the second floor of the courthouse. Either way, ballots must be at the county clerk’s office by noon on Sept. 5 to be counted.
The ballot will have two questions.
Question One asks the voters to approve $41,750,000 for school improvements. People will vote yes or no.
Question Two is only an option if Question One passes. For the second question, voters are asked if they want to approve an additional $3,120,000, which would pay for another gymnasium and locker rooms at Great Bend Middle School.
“We’ve got a lot of information to give you,” Thexton said as about two dozen people took their places at the Front Door meeting room. His presentation provided a look at the plans for each building in the district if the questions pass.
The information is readily available but the bond proposal covers a lot of territory, USD 428 Public Information Officer Andrea Bauer acknowledged Wednesday. “When you dive deeper into any of these topics, there’s so much information.”
Here are some of the highlights, with information provided by USD 428:
• 26% of the $44.87 million ($11,666,200; figures are approximate) is for safety and security improvements that include renovations in all elementary buildings, Washington Education Center, Great Bend Middle School and Great Bend High School. Each building will have a secure main entrance. During the school day, people will have to come through the office to enter the building. Each building will have a storm shelter designed to withstand tornadic winds. Pick-up and drop-off locations will be changed for improved safety and traffic flow.
• 27% ($12,114,900) to expand preschools so they are at all elementary schools, moving sixth graders to GBMS and building a new wing for them. Four-year-olds will be able to attend a free neighborhood preschool for half a day during the school year. Currently only Riley Elementary and Washington Early Education Center offer preschool.
• 26% ($11,666,200) for renovations and improvements, including new construction at the Washington Early Education Center. The 100-year-old portion of the building will be razed. New elementary playground and pre-K playground equipment will be added at all elementary buildings. Infrastructure, power supply and lighting in buildings will be updated to meet future education, technology and structure demands.
• 7% ($3,200,000) (for Question Two), to build a gymnasium addition and locker rooms at GBMS, to accommodate the student body growth of 50% (about 200 students).
• 5% ($2,243,500) for improvements at GBHS. Expand health and wellness classrooms and make other modifications to meet the curriculum.
• 9% ($4,038,300) for a new Transportation and Maintenance Building out by the District Education Center.
People in the audience had questions about the local tax impact. Thexton said the passage of both bond questions would take the district mill levy to about 55.72 mills, a 14.5 mill increase. For a median-value home of $87,500, this would raise property taxes by about $12.16 per month. For a $100,000 home, it would raise property taxes by about $13.90 per month. The district website www.greatbendschools.net has bond information, including property tax calculators. Anyone visiting this site can type in an appraised valuation to see the annual and monthly cost increase for residential, commercial and agricultural property.
The bonds would be paid back in 20 years.
District information also shows the mill levy for a few other school districts. Hoisington’s is 50.84 and Ellinwood’s is 60.47. Dodge City, 57.24; Hays, 43.57; Garden City, 48.91; Hutchinson, 54.98; Salina, 56.5; McPherson, 51.53.
Great Bend paid off its last bond in 2018 and currently has one of the lowest mill levies in the state, Thexton said Tuesday night.
He also noted that the state will pay 19% of the cost of a bond issue, which is why the district decided to include the Transportation and Maintenance Building in the bond, rather than use capital outlay money to build it, as was considered.
Thexton said the Master Facilities Plan that this proposal is based on came after nearly 18 months of research by district staff, architects and a steering committee comprised of nearly 50 community representatives. They looked at educational trends, present and future, and the condition of each building.
Moving sixth graders into the middle school is a trend many districts are following now, he said.
“Sixth grade is an unbelievable age,” he commented. Spending three years in middle school instead of two may be a better transition for them. Students would be in core classes — which he compared to homerooms — of 60 to 70 kids, just as the seventh and eighth graders are now. The sixth-grade curriculum is a better match with that configuration, he added.
Great Bend Middle School is the school that will see the most work. Adding a wing for sixth graders, the district would also add another storm shelter on that side of the building. Currently, GBMS is the only building with a FEMA-rated storm shelter.
Storm shelters would expand the usable space at the schools by serving multiple purposes. Many would double as cafeterias.
If the bond passes, work on the buildings would probably take two to three years. Employment of local contractors would be encouraged, Thexton said.
Thexton said the GBMS gym was presented as a separate question so no one would confuse the primary bond issue as being about “sports.” However, feedback from the community during the research phase indicated that “gym space is at a premium,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent John Popp said GBHS and GBMS both have limited locker room space and they don’t have space for the orchestras to practice and store equipment.