$12.3 million bond issue vote looms for USD 378

By Rose Schneider

USD 378 is pushing for a $12.3 million bond that will allow the Riley County School District to remodel and add onto its schools, eliminating crowding and increasing security.

According to Teresa Grant, the Riley County Elementary School principal, crowding started between 2007 and 2009 and has increased each fall. 

That has created some less-than-ideal arrangements. Some classrooms of the same grade level are far apart from each other, which affects teachers’ ability to work with each other.

“We have more than 500 students, pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, ages 3 to 14 right now,” Grant said. “If we could move the seventh- and eighth-grade students to the high school, that would open up some classrooms to have classes close in proximity.”

If expanded, the school could reduce the age gap between students interacting with each other and reduce or greatly eliminate the use of modular buildings for classes, which are 2 miles away from other school buildings.

“We would be able to have everyone in a building together instead of 3- and 4-year-olds in a modular building,” she said.

This would also be beneficial during emergencies — in the case of severe weather, for example, and for intruders.

The bond issue will go to a vote on June 11. If passed, USD 378 superintendent Brad Starnes said he hopes that the students would be in their new classrooms by fall 2015.

“Our obligation is to provide a safe and secure location for our students with more curricular options, electives and opportunities for students at the middle and high school,”  said Starnes, who has been the USD 378 superintendent for eight years. 

For the past three years, the middle school has been transporting students to the high school for physical education classes and elective courses “every hour of every day.” The additions would allow for a “better learning environment and energy-efficient updates, including lights and roofing, which could in theory save up to 16 percent each year to put back into operating funds to provide more classroom supplies and offset operating expenses.”

For the last two years, USD 378 has been meeting with various planning and discussion groups including parents, teachers, administrators, school board and community members to assess the needs of the district.

Officials also have spent roughly eight months meeting with architects about the expansion project.

“The main things we needed to address were the safety and security of our district for the students and teachers; the overflow of our grade and middle schools and the need to create more room for those students; and providing curricular advancement for the middle and high schools,” said school board president Dan Thomson.

The $12.3 million bond proposal includes an addition at the high school for middle school students and as well as two new classrooms at the high school. By moving the middle school students into a wing at the high school, six classrooms at the grade school will be opened up, giving those classes more space. The bond also would allow the school district to enhance its safety and security by adding lock-down technology, adding surveillance cameras, and creating a main entrance that is the single entry point at each building. That way, individuals can be buzzed in or denied entry when appropriate.

Riley County is following the example of other area schools, including Rock Creek, Silver Lake and Rossville, which have built additions in recent years to accommodate more students.

“During the day we have middle schoolers in the hallways with preschoolers and kindergarteners coming through,” Thomson said. “In a perfect world we’d be able to build an entire middle school complex all by itself but with the fiscal responsibility of the district I don’t think it would get approved.”

The money needed will come from a property-tax mill levy and will be spread over a 25-year stretch.

The actual construction costs may be higher or lower than the current $12.3 million bid. If they’re lower, Thomson said it has been proposed that the excess money be returned to the taxpayers instead of being used for a different project. If the bond is not passed on June 11, the school board will continue to work with the city to find a plan for the school district that will also work for the public, Thomson said.

“Riley County is a tight-knit community,” Thomson said. “Whether the vote is a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ we will make sure we keep our community together and do what is necessary to maintain the best environment for our kids, students and teachers; not just inside the school walls but also outside, within the community.”

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