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USD 383 gets first look at changed MHS West Campus designs

Changes to construction plans for Manhattan High School’s west campus will add 25 classrooms, but current cost estimates exceed the construction budget by about $2.8 million, the design team said Wednesday.

The Manhattan-Ogden school board heard about the new construction plan that will add the classrooms to the east ends of D and E halls instead of demolishing part of A hall on the building’s south end. The new construction will create a third courtyard at the school and better allow school administrators to group classrooms by subject, officials said.

On the building’s west end, a new storm-rated, multipurpose gym space and a wrestling room will be part of a new athletics entrance.

Officials said it will help parents and visitors better navigate the school, and the entrance could also serve as a new parent drop-off and pick-up point as part of a road that will circle the building.

The entrance also will serve as a pathway between the building and the school’s tennis courts and the planned synthetic turf practice field.

While the project will build onto existing halls, the new space will have modern designs that use classrooms and hallways in ways that better reflect the needs of students and teachers, Adam Sterns, principal architect with Gould Evans, said.

In his presentation, Sterns said the design team opts for open hallway spaces instead of lockers, creating a front-porch atmosphere for students to use outside of the classrooms.

Right now, officials roughly estimate the project as presented would cost $28.1 million, which is over the construction budget by $2.8 million. The construction, design and district team said there is about $1.3 million in immediate cost-saving measures. District officials said they’ll work on whittling down the remaining $1.5 million overage.

Eric Reid, assistant superintendent, said it’s possible that as the district finalizes plans for other district buildings, they’ll find funds to transfer to the high school project.

In other business, Reid presented the board with a report on district transfers.

As of this week, the district had approved 278 out of 317 in-district transfer requests from parents, in addition to 16 forced transfers, for its elementary schools. He said the district has to be careful about transferring students between schools that are at or near limits on students per classroom.

The district approved 119 requests to transfer into the district across K-12 and denied 26 requests.

In any case, Reid said the district’s request approval rate for elementary schools, 88%, was on par with recent years. Reid emphasized that transfer numbers fluctuate throughout the school year as the district processes additional transfers.

Ogden Elementary's community garden is a labor of love for teacher David Atchison

Some of the children were about as red as the tomatoes, but despite the hot Wednesday afternoon, they listened intently and excitedly as David Atchison led them through the Ogden Elementary School’s community garden.

Atchison, the music teacher at the school, stopped by a sunflower and told them all about a man named Fibonacci, who lived almost 1,000 years ago and came up with an idea about a sequence of numbers where the next number is always the sum of the last two. The children looked on in amazement as Atchison explained that you could see the pattern of those numbers in the swirls of seeds on the sunflower’s head.

Next, he showed them a short stand of corn, plucked an ear and shucked it. He pulled off dried, golden kernels, and speaking slowly but deliberately, he told the kids how they’d be able to make popcorn when they each picked their own ears to take home.

The tour, which was open to the public, was comprehensive, and he walked them by the small patches of tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, watermelon, corn and flowers at the garden. Afterward, he sat a dozen kids and a handful of adults underneath the shade of the apple, peach and cherry trees for some cool watermelon and ice water.

The garden itself dates back 30 years, Atchison said, but he’s tended to it for the past 20 years. He first started gardening at age 4, when his dad let him have a small patch of his garden to grow onions. He knew when he became a teacher that he wanted to pass on what his dad taught him and what he’s learned in the 57 years since he first pulled weeds.

Every Wednesday, the school’s garden club “helps” him with the day-to-day activities. It’s more of a learning exercise than anything, but to Atchison, the minds he grows are just as important as the vegetables. He boasts that there has not been a single injury in his 20 years at the garden, and the garden keeps kids excited about school.

The children take some of the vegetables home, and Atchison distributes much of the remaining produce among the school’s teachers and staff. This year, Atchison said that’s included about 50 gallons of tomatoes from the 175 plants they put in this year. Atchison said he tells the children that occasionally, other community members will come and take from the garden, but that’s OK, because they probably need that food.

“When I meet people in the garden who might be homeless, or insecure for food, I always invite them to take goods,” Atchison said. “I learned that from my dad, too. He loved nothing more than giving away a big head of broccoli and acting like it was no big deal.”

A few other community and school members help Atchison maintain the garden throughout the year, and those volunteers shift every couple of years. That’s just the nature of relying on the parents of students who will inevitably graduate.

Atchison said the school district has been supportive of the garden, and the city helps with the water needed to grow the plants.

Lydia Campanella, a kindergartner at Frank Bergman Elementary, said her favorite part of the tour was the flowers.

“I loved the flowers,” she said. “I smelled them. We have a garden at home, and we grow a lot of a asparagus.”

She also wanted The Mercury’s readers to know that she has two cats and eight chickens.

Avery Wahle, a fourth grader at Woodrow Wilson, said it was the biggest garden she’d seen.

“I really liked the tomatoes,” Wahle said. “They smelled really good and taste good when you eat them with salt.”

The garden requires a lot of care and weed-pulling, but for Atchison, it’s been a labor of love.

“When you go through the stress of teaching kids who have a lot of needs, this is a great way of letting out stress,” he said. “I don’t take my complaints home and lay them at the feet of my wife. I can come to the garden and work through them a bit.”

Mother: Baby had no major health issues before his death

Her 12-week-old son was healthy just hours before she left him in the care of a friend, a mother testified at the Riley County Courthouse Thursday. But upon her return, she made a 911 call saying he appeared to have bruises and trouble breathing.

Senior Deputy Riley County Attorney Barry Disney questioned Jessica Hudson about the incidents and care of her infant son, Michael Calvert Jr., leading up to his death during the trial of D’Khari Lyons, who is charged with first-degree murder and abuse of a child.

On Nov. 8, Riley County emergency dispatch received a call at about 8:30 a.m. regarding an infant who had trouble breathing at an apartment at 916 Bluemont Ave. Emergency responders took the child to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan before flying him to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, where he later died on Nov. 11. Medical examiners ruled the death as a homicide caused by abusive head trauma.

During her testimony, Hudson described her son Michael’s health as “good,” and said he was physically fine before the November incident. Although he was born about three weeks early, she had no complications during the birth and said her daughters also had been born a few weeks early. She said doctors had not noted any major health issues with Michael.

Hudson said Michael had been fussy in the week before his death, and she attributed the behavior to constipation problems. She said the baby had been with his father the weekend prior, but the father, with whom she didn’t live, also did not note anything about Michael’s health other than fussiness. Hudson also said she had taken Michael to the doctor the day before the incident. The doctor only prescribed him medication to treat pink eye.

Hudson said she met Lyons through work, and they began “hanging out” in October 2018. She said he often came and spent the night at her apartment, where she lived with her children. She said she “pretty much” considered the two of them to be in a relationship.

The night before the incident, Hudson said Lyons came over after he got off work as he usually did. She said she fed Michael throughout the night, and he was alert.

In the 911 call Hudson made on Nov. 8, which was played in court, Hudson told the dispatcher that although her son was breathing, it sounded like he was wheezing, and he was generally unresponsive. She said she could also see what looked like bruises on his chest, which she had not noticed earlier that morning. Hudson said she had left her son in the care of Lyons, while she dropped her two young daughters off at the bus stop and school. She later testified it usually took about 20 minutes for her to take them there and return home.

In RCPD officer Jonathan Shepard’s body camera footage of his response to the incident, Lyons is seen letting Shepard into the building and leading him to the apartment. While Shepard checks Michael’s condition, Lyons said he and Michael had been lying on the bed together when the baby started coughing, so he turned him on his side but otherwise had not done anything to him.

Shepard said he noted bruising along the child’s neck and swelling on the left side of his face. Shepard took photos of Michael’s injuries at the hospital and later took another set of images after hospital staff alerted him to more bruising, redness and swelling on the child’s head and face.

The trial was still going on at press time and was scheduled to continue through the afternoon.

K-State, other state universities simplify admissions criteria

K-State and other state higher education institutions will see more simplified admissions criteria following a Kansas Board of Regents decision.

The Regents unanimously voted Wednesday to remove a precollege curriculum requirement for high school students. The state’s four-year institutions also will stop evaluating applicants on whether they ranked in the top third of their class. Instead, applicants will be evaluated on their grade point average.

At Emporia State, Pittsburg State, Fort Hays State and Wichita State universities, that cumulative GPA requirement is now 2.25. K-State, however, opted for a 3.25 GPA minimum. Both GPA requirements remain alternatives to the institutions’ existing option of admission with an ACT score of 21 or more.

The University of Kansas will maintain its two paths to admission — a cumulative GPA of 3.25 and minimum ACT of 21, or a GPA of 3.0 but with a higher minimum ACT score of 24 — but also will drop the precollege curriculum.

Under the precollege curriculum, students previously had to take four English classes, three to four math classes, three natural science classes, three social sciences classes and three electives in high school to be eligible for admission. A statewide task force found that the curriculum was redundant and ultimately complicated the admissions process for students, high school counselors and college admissions officers.

“GPA is a better measure,” Daniel Archer, vice president of academic affairs for the Regents, said. “It’s consistently regarded as a more reliable predictor of college readiness. It’s also a more standardized criterion where the student really competes with him or herself instead of the class rank, where the student is more competing against others.”

State education officials expect the new admissions criteria to make higher education more accessible to the state’s high school students.

The task force’s study shows that under the admissions procedure, about 87% of Kansas high school graduates would have met the new 2.25 GPA minimum. K-State officials said 93% of its freshman class last year would have met at least one of the criteria.

K-State officials said they opted for a higher GPA minimum after consulting with the Huron Consulting Group, the company the university partnered with as it tries to turn around declining enrollment.

The group found that students with a 3.25 GPA in high school were linked to a 12% higher retention rate than students with a 3.0 GPA.

In any case, students who do not meet the requirements can still be admitted into the state universities, but the Regents limit the number of those freshmen to 10% of the universities’ total admissions. Any student who attends a community or technical college with a 2.0 GPA in at least 24 credit hours is also eligible for admission to the four-year institutions.