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Board member apologizes for school’s condition

By Bryan Richardson

A USD 383 board member issued a public apology Wednesday to faculty members at College Hill Preschool for the condition of the facility.

The apology, by board member Dave Colburn, came during the board’s review of a facility study by BG Consultants, which found that more than three-quarters of the building has exceeded or is nearing the end of its life cycle.

Colburn called the information a “sobering, eye opening” report, noting the non-inclusion of the preschool in the 2008 bond issue and describing a sense at the time that the board could just get back to it later.

“I apologize to you and your staff that we haven’t given our due diligence on this,” he told Shelley Aistrup, the Northview School principal who also oversees College Hill.

While the physical structure can last another 50-plus years, the report indicated that many elements have 10 years or less of usefulness left. Those include the roof, interior doors, the HVAC system, electrical, and sidewalks and ramps. Certain exterior doors, siding and floor finishes have been deemed as “failing” with aspects of the building also having termite damage.

Aistrup listed no hot water in the adult bathroom, no heat in the ESL room and windows that can’t be lifted in a lot of the classrooms as some of the things people have to deal with. “It can be a real challenge in a lot of ways,” she said.

Aistrup said she hoped that some of the more important things can be addressed.

Elizabeth Nelson, Aistrup’s assistant at College Hill, thanked Colburn for the apology since many of the teachers were sad when the bond issue passed without including College Hill. She also expressed appreciation for those who showed up again “when their voices weren’t heard the first time.”

“I think it’s sad that we have our smallest, most vulnerable kids in a building that isn’t safe and a building I wouldn’t want my own son to go to school in,” Nelson said.

In total, BG Consultants estimates that it would cost nearly $1.38 million to provide all the renovations listed in the report. To build a preschool of identical size would cost around $1.35 million. The school has 108 students.

However, Tom Arpin of BG Consultants mentioned that the cost to build anew would likely increase 30 or 50 percent because the existing preschool is too small. Colburn said he isn’t sure completing all the renovations would help because it isn’t an optimal layout even with the changes. “I have a really strong concern about whether putting much money in that building is really responsible,” he said.

Kathy Dzewaltowski, who wants to preserve the current building, said the structure’s deterioration is the result of a board decision, and the board should be responsible for fixing it.

“I hope that the other buildings that have been renovated through the bond process demonstrated to you that a facility that isn’t in the best of shape can be brought back to a quality facility,” she said.

The plan now is for the district’s facilities and growth committee to discuss the study and develop options for the board to consider.

Pottawatomie County property purchase

The school board also approved closing on the purchase of 30.79 acres of land in Pottawatomie County along Lake Elbo Road. The board approved the purchase after BG Consultants told members that the land could be used for a new elementary school.

Based on an Aug. 14 preliminary enrollment report, first grade has 508 students enrolled. If the number holds, this would be the first time since 1994 that USD 383 has more than 500 students in the first grade.


Bats at Manhattan High

Maintenance director Keith Noll provided some more information on the bat situation at Manhattan High west campus. Bats have been located in the storage area between the two gyms due to openings on the exterior. Those openings have been sealed, and cones have been installed to let the bats leave but not enter.

The bats were discovered in the later part of June, but work didn’t get started until Aug. 12. Noll explained that the pest management company had to wait for the young bats to be born and fly on their own. “If you seal the building before they’re born and can fly out the building, most of them will be trapped in the building,” he said.

In another week to 10 days, Noll said there will be a nighttime investigation for bats. If they are gone at that point, a pest management company will remove the cones.


Transportation commercial

Transportation director Doug Messer announced that commercials advocating stopping for buses are now ready for public viewing. The commercials, filmed by 502 Media Group, can be found by searching “USD383 Bus Stop Safety PSA” on YouTube.

The videos — a boy version and a girl version — show a student getting off the bus talking about a dream career when a vehicle ignoring the stop sign on the bus drives up as the student crosses in front of the bus.

Messer said vehicles that run the stop sign on the bus are a significant problem for the district. “Hopefully, we’ll get the message out,” he said. “We’re only five days into school, and we already have a stack of stop sign runners on my desk.”

Messer said it will run on the district’s Channel 20 on Cox, and the district will also work on getting commercial time on other stations.

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