More than 20 community groups are interested in using empty space in the Manhattan High School East Campus if voters approve a bond issue next month.
At a Manhattan-Ogden School Board work session Wednesday, Eric Reid, USD 383 assistant superintendent, said 24 social services groups have come forward to say they would like to use some of the building’s 147,000 square feet at 901 Poyntz Ave. if it becomes available.
The school board is asking for voter approval to borrow $129.5 million for capital improvement projects in all USD 383 schools. East Campus, which the board has deemed unfit for future student use, would house ninth- and 10th-graders for at least two years during construction of an expanded wing at West Campus. From there, the board has not been able to give a definitive answer as to what will happen to East Campus.
The school’s computer network is housed at East Campus, and the cost of moving that equipment would be more costly than maintaining the current building. The board has given suggestions in the past about moving the district’s central kitchen and warehouse storage to East Campus. Doing so would also free up space at the district’s facility on Hayes Drive, letting the transportation department expand. Board members would also like to move staff from the “Teaching and Learning” department to East Campus. That would free up classroom space at each school. However, none of the plans have been approved, as the school board members are waiting to see if the bond passes.
Renee Gassmann of Manhattan Common Table and Tracy Emery of the F.I.T. Closet said at the meeting that both of their groups could use space at East Campus.
Common Table is a group of downtown Manhattan churches that serve free meals to people in need seven nights a week. The meals change location each night as each church hosts the event. Some of the food comes from a Kansas State University organization, Food Recovery Network. The group takes extra food that would have been served to student athletes and donates it to the Common Table. Gassman said having one location would be less confusing for the 50 to 100 people who show up each night, and could open opportunities for the group’s future.
“Maybe we could start teaching cooking skills to some of the people who attend, and they could eventually get a job in a local restaurant,” she said. “The building would be such a fantastic place, since it has the large cafeteria. Or if you decided to move central kitchen, we could move to the home economics rooms.”
Gassmann also said if multiple groups could be in the East Campus building, it would create a central hub of social services, as many of the groups ultimately work together with some of the people who are food or housing insecure, or at risk of being hungry or homeless, in the area.
Emery, executive director of the F.I.T. Closet, which is already affiliated with the school district, said the group serves 94 families a week on average in the district. The closet helps with school supplies, toiletry and hygiene products and clothing for students and their families who are in transition, housing insecure, and who qualify for free or reduced school lunches.
“If any of you have visited us since we moved to College Avenue, you know we’re at maximum capacity,” she said. “With a high number of people coming out of the small facility, the hope of being able to expand into a larger space is exciting.”
Board members questioned the cost of allowing outside groups to use the building.
The school district would retain ownership of the building, meaning it would use taxpayer money to maintain the building. The district also would pay for utilities and insurance on the building, among other fees. However, the district by law could not charge the nonprofits rent.
Reid said while he knows there would be a lot of legwork on the legal side if the board and community ultimately agreed to move some nonprofits into the space, he said he has not looked into it too much.
“We have time to figure this out, but I appreciate that we had the conversations,” he said. “If we don’t pass the bond, then the whole conversation is moot, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time the next two weeks looking into this. If it passes, then we would start up these conversations again in the spring, in March.”
Reid also said because the groups would not be able to use the spaces for upward of five years, it would give everyone time to understand the legal work, and give the groups time to determine how they will sustain their funding long term.
“Our plan now is to keep the network operating center there, plan on moving the central kitchen, the warehouse and Teaching and Learning there. In the additional remaining spaces, we want to form a committee to start to work with nonprofits with a goal of moving some social service agencies under one roof, that will not be paid for by 383,” board member Katrina Lewison said. “And we’ll work on the memorandum of understanding and agreements with them.”