$97.5 million couldn’t fix everything

Board wise to revisit East Campus needs

By The Mercury

The beat goes on in the Manhattan-Ogden School District. Just four years after voters approved an unprecedented $97.5 million bond issue for school renovations and expansions — and just as the massive project is wrapping up — the Board of Education returned to the subject of yet more school improvements.

To be fair, work discussed Wednesday for Manhattan High School’s East Campus — the ninth grade center — was cut from the bond issue to improve its chances of passing. A number of other projects across the district also were dropped. Board members at the time were rightly concerned that a proposal exceeding $100 million might spark sticker shock among voters and result in its rejection. Remaining priorities at the East Campus include shoring up the foundation and first floor, improving drainage and dealing with asbestos.

Although voters overwhelmingly approved the bond issue, discussion of yet more improvements and more money might have some wondering when enough is enough. That’s understandable, and the board seems to recognize it. But the board is nevertheless right to confront issues at the East Campus. As the recent bond issue and the hundreds of millions of dollars Kansas State University needs to upgrade existing facilities illustrate, deferring maintenance indefinitely only adds to the ultimate cost.

As was probably inevitable, the discussion turned to the question of whether the East Campus, a building repeatedly renovated, is worth another major investment. That led to mention of building a second high school. That is on a distant horizon, but the 15- to 20-year time frame for it coincided with the life expectancy of the East Campus, at least as a school.

A second high school is an exciting, albeit expensive prospect, and as board President Dave Colburn observed, would be dependent, among other things, on consistent growth in enrollment.

Although possible downsizing at Fort Riley could affect that growth, if the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce’s optimism as expressed to Riley County commissioners Thursday is any indication, the community and the school district’s enrollment will remain on an upward trend. As John Pagen, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development, told commissioners, Manhattan’s business community is generating increasing amounts of revenue and more companies are making serious inquiries about Manhattan. Renewal of the countywide half-cent sales tax on Tuesday is likely to help boost those economic development efforts.

The school board didn’t decide what to do about the East Campus, but the situation there doesn’t call for an immediate decision. The next step, as board members indicated Wednesday, will be an analysis of the East Campus’s needs that will help guide the decision about its future as a school.

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