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USD 112 Super responds to HVAC concerns
USD 112 Centarl Plains Holyrood elementary.jpg
The Central Plains Elementary School in Holyrood soon will have a newer HVAC system installed. The USD 112 Board of Education has agreed to sell the former Central Plains Middle School building in Bushton by sealed bid next month. It is working with a contractor to remove the newer HVAC system there, and will install it at the Holyrood facility.

HOLYROOD — In the Sunday, Aug. 23 edition of the Great Bend Tribune, an ad on Page 8A was placed on behalf of a group identifying themselves as Concerned Taxpayers of USD 112. It contained a number of allegations against USD 112 Superintendent Greg Clark and four unnamed board members concerning the decision to swap out the HVAC system at Central Plains Elementary School in Holyrood with a newer system that was installed at the former CES Middle School building in Bushton. 

The letter called for patrons to “get involved and keep up with what is going on in the school district,” and to talk to their representatives concerning actions taken at the July 13 and August 10 Board of Education meetings. 

Clark responds

Clark met with this Tribune reporter at the newspaper office on Monday to respond. 

Starting out, the letter states at the July meeting, members asked him to get bids from multiple local contractors for mini split heating and air conditioning units for the Central Plains Elementary School building in Holyrood. 

“That’s not exactly true,” Clark said. In fact, only three board members asked for the bids, but no vote was taken by the board as a whole, so there was no consensus. But, that’s not to say he didn’t investigate options.

Earlier, Clark said, the district had LST Consulting Engineers of Manhattan engineer the mini split project, an important step needed before bids can be sought. 

When LST completed its plan, DCS, the Wichita-based construction management at risk firm the district has worked with on projects in the past, was asked to work up a budget estimate. That estimate was $700,000, way more than the district was prepared to spend, Clark said. Option two, a newer centralized HVAC system, was estimated to cost $400,000.

Option three was to move the Bushton HVAC system to Holyrood and install it at the elementary school.  According to Clark, DCS had the least expensive estimate, and two other contractors he contacted came in much higher.      

DCS budget estimates the cost to move the Bushton HVAC unit to Holyrood is $180,000. The estimate to move the existing HVAC system at the  Holyrood building back to Bushton and set it up to run is $40,000. If the district decides not to use it, DCS can either dispose of it or drop it at the Bushton site for no extra charge. 

At the August 10 meeting, Clark presented the estimate to the board, and it was decided to hire DCS and move ahead with moving the HVAC from Bushton to Holyrood. The vote was a narrow majority with four in favor and three against. DCS has already requested local bids for the electrical work, Clark said. 

A decision on what to do with Holyrood’s existing HVAC was tabled until a later time. 

A positive development, Clark said, is that Ellsworth County has earmarked $256,000 in SPARK money for the district.  

“We can use these funds for the project if we choose to, as it will provide better air quality for the students and staff at CPES,” he said. “This money was provided by the federal government. Only if we use capital outlay money will local tax dollars be used.” 

Motives questioned 

The Concerned Taxpayers’ letter questions why no local firms were contacted, and also  suggests motives for the board’s decision to remove the Bushton HVAC system.

As for the local bids question, Clark said taxpayers should understand how the district decided to work with DCS.  

USD 112 Central Plains belongs to the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, nicknamed “Greenbush” after the small unincorporated town where it is located. Greenbush provides a number of services to small districts all over the state. One of those services is vetting Construction Management At Risk firms. These firms do the work of seeking bids and managing a project from start to finish. Districts use them because they have the expertise and know-how to achieve greater time and cost efficiency.  

“It goes back to the fact that I can’t manage the project, because I’m not a construction expert. I can’t write the request for bids because I don’t know what to request,” Clark said. “DCS will oversee the project to make sure it’s done correctly.”

DCS is listed by Greenbush as an approved At Risk firm, Clark said. And, USD 112 has worked with DCS on projects in the past. 

“Every project we’ve worked with them on, they have brought in local electrical contractors, and they have reached out to local contractors for this project that we’re going to be doing, which is moving the HVAC system,” he said. 

The Concerned Taxpayers’ ad questions why the district would spend an additional $40,000 to move the non-working HVAC from the Holyrood building to the Bushton building. Clark said doing so could increase the marketability of the building as the district attempts to find a buyer. A few offers have been received at this time, so there is interest. 

Finally, the letter alleges the estimates for the mini split option and the newer HVAC option were intentionally overpriced. 

“These bids were probably priced this way to make the $180,000 bid to move the unit from CPMS the cheapest and most attractive option,” it states. It goes on to allege another motive, “to make sure the CPMS property would never be used as a school again, the school board voted 4-3 to remove the HVAC from that building.” 

To this, Clark noted that the decision to close the Bushton building was a difficult one for all board members. Coming to that decision took months, after experts from the Kansas Association of School Boards and three other outside district superintendents toured the facility and offered their objective feedback. Still, there are those in the district that were unhappy with the decision, and feelings are still raw. Now, with students returning to school during the pandemic, the writers of the letter indicated some hope the school may still be of use to the district. 

“With social distancing being a top priority this coming school year, and CPES (Holyrood) running out of space, the superintendent had suggested several meetings ago to use local churches to spread students out,” the letter states, questioning why it would be an option in the first place. “USD 112 still owns a perfectly good building in Bushton.” 

Clark said with new guidance from Education Commissioner Randy Watson and from the health department, space is no longer a factor when mitigating the effects of the pandemic at schools. It is agreed that, at this time, if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, the entire class would be placed in quarantine. Classes are being isolated and taught in grade-specific pods. 

“In truth, we could put a class on the moon and if a student tested positive the entire class would be quarantined,” he said. 

At the district’s school for grades 7-12 in Claflin, positive cases are being treated similarly. On Aug. 21, the district was notified by the Barton County Health Department that a member of the high school volleyball team had tested positive and had come into contact with other players at a recent practice. Similarly, the district received a notice concerning a football player. So, now the volleyball team and the football team have been placed in quarantine until Sept. 5 by the school nurse, according to a notice posted on the district website.  

Clark is disappointed that the writers of the letter felt the need to put something in the newspaper anonymously. He and his board members have been up-front with the public.

“When we discuss items at a board meeting everyone can see who is saying what,” he said. “In truth, we have been live streaming our meetings and on an average meeting night we will get up to 500 live views and many watching the recordings later.” 

Actions taken at special meeting

On Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, the USD 112 Board met in a special session at the Holyrood facility. Attempts to make a video record of the meeting for public viewing failed, but Clark spoke to the Tribune on Wednesday. The purpose of the meeting was to take action on the Bushton facility, and to determine whether or not to spend the $40,000 to move the Holyrood HVAC to Bushton. The board opted to simply dispose of the older HVAC, rather than pay to move and re-install it. 

It also approved selling the Bushton building via a sealed bid process. The building will be sold “as is” after the district removes from it the items it wishes to keep. Bidders will have until 1 p.m. on September 11 to get their bids in. Bids will be opened at 1:30 p.m. that day, and the winner will take possession via a quitclaim deed, Clark said.