The Facilities Master Plan for Great Bend USD 428 isn’t on the agenda for Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, but it probably will be discussed in March, Superintendent Khris Thexton said. The board is taking its time as members study the 320-page outline of recommendations it received last month from SJCF Architects. Any plan that includes a possible bond issue must be sent to the Kansas State Board of Education for approval, but the state won’t accept new requests before July 1.
There is a cap on how much bond money the state will approve each year, and districts will be rushing to get their petitions in as soon as they can. The cap this past year was $330 million and most if not all of that was used, according to Terry Wiggers, an architect with SJCF.
After the Jan. 14 meeting where it received the report, the board traveled to Fort Hays State University for a “retreat” on Jan. 30. However, Thexton said the board continues to maintain transparency as it weighs its options. Highlights of the report can be found online, and Thexton spoke at last Wednesday’s Great Bend Noon Kiwanis meeting to explain some of the highlights of the planning process.
Wichita-based SJCF was hired to help the district work on a master plan, Thexton said. The process got underway last February with steering committee meetings. SJCF is also the firm that won the bid to build a new ballpark on the site of the former Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, Thexton said.
For Great Bend, the architects looked at every building and talked to educators and community members, then said, “Here’s what you have, here’s what you need to do now and here’s what you need to do in the future,” Thexton said. “It never felt like a sales pitch for a bond. We want to make sure that we continue to have great facilities.”
The school district’s last bond issue was $21.3 million. Voters approved it in 1998 and it was paid off last September.
“A lot of things that came up (during the study phase) were safety and security for our buildings,” Thexton said. The district also wants to offer preschool for 3- and 4-year-old kids. “The sooner we can get kids on the education path, the more education they’ll see,” he said. The best way to do that is to add a new wing at the middle school and move sixth graders to that building, he added.
Suggestions include additions for all of the buildings. Each school would get a tornado shelter — something that only Great Bend Middle School has currently. The Middle School could use a second shelter; the one it has can hold all of the students but the building is big and could benefit from shelters at two ends. That would also create a space for the orchestra to rehearse. At present, the growing orchestra program moves from the band room to the gym depending on what’s in use; once they practiced outside, Thexton said.
Elementary schools also have old playground equipment and there are traffic problems during drop-off and pick-up times before and after school.
Part of the board’s job will be to fine-tune the options recommended by the steering committee. Thexton said doing the “top-end” suggestions at every site would have cost $145 million “and we all knew that’s not possible.” When the board does approve a plan, it may have multiple phases.
But the plan should be comprehensive, he said. “If we go through the process, we don’t want to say, ‘I wish we’d done (something else).”
Enrollment dropped a few years ago but has rebounded and is holding steady, Thexton said.
“I don’t see Great Bend getting over 3,000 (students) but we could be in the 2,800 to 2,900 range for a long time,” he said. The number of sixth graders hovers around 190-220.
The steering committee looked at a wide range of options, including a new high school and rotating the football field at Memorial Stadium 90 degrees. None of those ideas made the final recommendation, Thexton said. “Unless something really strange happens in Great Bend, you won’t see a new high school built.”
Community feedback continues to be important, Thexton said.
“It takes a community to pass a bond and it takes a community to support the schools.”
If the district is successful in petitioning for and passing a bond issue, the state will contribute 23 cents for every dollar spent, Thexton said. That amount is based on the number of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In 1998, the district received 46 cents on the dollar for its bond issue.
For more information
All of the options can be seen online at the district website: www.greatbendschools.net. Look for the link “USD 428 Comprehensive Facilities Study,” under the photo and above the calendar. Information includes a mill levy comparison for school districts and what a mill levy increase might cost a homeowner or agricultural landowner.