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Pre-school, east campus are new focal points for district

By Bryan Richardson

Having wrapped up construction of its $98 million bond issue, the focus in USD 383 is shifting to a new set of renovation and construction projects. Perhaps another bond issue is on the way, too.

Since July, the USD 383 school board has discussed facility needs at Manhattan High east campus and College Hill Preschool. It has also approved the purchase of land for a potential new elementary school.

The board commissioned facility studies for MHS East and College Hill after leaving certain improvements out of the 2008 bond issue. The board reduced the scope of MHS East renovations and removed College Hill renovations in order to keep the overall bond issue cost under $100 million. The original proposal was $128.7 million.

Board president Curt Herrman and Dave Colburn are the only two members of the current board who served during the bond issue development. “The feedback we got from the community and the public was ‘get it under $100 million or it will never pass,’” Herrman said.

Colburn said he knew the board would eventually have to address the things that were removed, but didn’t think it would happen so soon. “That’s part of what happens in a growing community and when you don’t do everything that was recommended by the professionals,” he said.

Herrman said the board will discuss the issues of MHS East and College Hill during its retreat in October.

Most board members agreed that College Hill is the top priority. More than 77 percent of the building has exceeded or is near the end of its life cycle, according to the facility study by BG Consultants.

That firm 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.

Around $1 million of that cost is associated with items to be done within five years including entrance security improvements, window replacement, painting, floor improvements, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacement, sidewalk improvements and accessibility issues.

Board members have indicated they are more likely to want to build a new facility near Northview Elementary. “To put $1.4 million in an historic building doesn’t really make a lot of sense for the taxpayer,” Herrman said.

Board member Darell Edie said there may be funds available for renovating historical buildings. The structure was built in 1895. “If not, I’ll be interested in building a new one,” he said. “The maintenance costs will be cheaper for a new building than maintaining an old building.”

It should be noted that the preschool isn’t registered as a historic building on the local, state or national level. Mentions of the historic nature of the building are related to its age and use of limestone.

Board member Marcia Rozell said she appreciates the history of the building, but wasn’t sure about the best way to approach it.

“Unfortunately, we’re not in the (historic structure) business, but I would love to see a plan that would utilize that front limestone part with the other part going down,” she said.

Board member Aaron Estabrook seemed to be the most unwilling to build a new building, a qualification he attached to both east campus and College Hill. “One of the worst things a government entity can do is abandon a building and try to build new,” he said.

Board member Pat Hudgins said MHS East needs a lot of work too, but extensive renovation would have to wait for a better financial time. “I wish we could afford to build a whole new school for the young people there,” she said. “What we need to do is keep patching and moving along, so we don’t make too much of an impact economically.”

A big part of the district’s future is figuring out what to do with the east campus and whether it should remain strictly a ninth-grade center.

The facility study identified $15 to $15.7 million in total renovation costs. The critical needs in the near future such as removing asbestos from the steam tunnels, roof repairs and drainage improvements are estimated to cost $172,500.

Herrman and Edie raised the idea of placing sixth and seventh grade at the middle schools and having eighth and ninth graders at the east campus. Herrman also said the east campus could be used as a magnet high school.

Colburn said having a 6-8 middle school system could also ease space issues at the elementary schools.

A new bond issue comes into play when considering a new elementary school. As a site for the potential school, the district purchased 30.79 acres of land in Pottawatomie County along Lake Elbo Road.

The board last looked into the idea in 2011 when it commissioned a feasibility study about building an elementary school at its Miller Ranch property. BG Consultants representatives said it would be difficult and more expensive to build a school on the property, which sits on a hillside with an elevation drop of 60 to 80 feet.

The reason for the consistent examination into a new elementary school is because the number of students in the district continues to grow. There were 508 first-grade students enrolled on the first day of school Aug. 14. If the number holds, this would be the first time since 1994 that USD 383 has more than 500 students in the first grade.

Rozell said she figured the district is about three to five years out from an elementary school project. “We had to secure the land first,” she said. “I know there’s concern about it being on the east side, but there are a lot of students we bus from the east side.”

Board member Leah Fliter said a new elementary school shouldn’t be built until population pressure at schools justifies it. “The potential is certainly there,” she said. “We would not have bought the land if we didn’t think it was a good idea.”

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