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Saturday, August 2, 2014

$40 million Mulvane school bond issue vote is Tuesday

BY LORI YOUNT
The Wichita Eagle

Mulvane schools are asking voters to approve a $40 million bond issue Tuesday as they face the pain of the recession and the uncertainty of an economic boost from a proposed casino.

The bond issue would pay for a new school, classroom additions, storm shelters and a new sports stadium.

It would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by an estimated $103.50 a year and would be paid off over 20 years.

Some residents question whether the 2,000-student district really needs that much money. But bond supporters say that with the state still offering to pay half of the cost of construction, it's the optimal time to build and finish work left undone in a 2004 bond plan.

There is no organized opposition to the bond issue.

"If you want to solve anything with the economy, everyone can't quit doing anything," said Jim Lanzrath, chairman of the bond campaign committee. "We're almost doing a Mulvane stimulus package."

Bond projects

"The population is not growing, but the mandates put on the school district are growing," said Tom Keil, district director of human resources.

Schools are required to have separate areas for certain programs, including early childhood, intensive reading and special education.

The classroom additions in the bond plan leave room for enrollment to grow 10 percent comfortably.

At Munson Primary School, two classes are held in a portable building. To seek shelter in a tornado, students have to walk outside to the main building.

The bond issue would pay for a new $14 million primary school, which would be built north of K-15 near Mulvane Grade School. It would serve pre-kindergarten to second grade and would have a wing for an early-childhood program and a gym designed as a Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelter.

The bond plan would put storm shelters at all the schools. FEMA reimburses the district for the concrete reinforcement needed to create the shelters.

The current Munson building would be converted to a community center.

Other large bond projects include:

* A $3.68 million addition to the elementary school — grades three to five — with a gym and classrooms

* A $1.58 million addition for the middle school, including a computer lab and wrestling room

* An $8.57 million addition to the high school to include science labs, wrestling room and classrooms

* Parking upgrades at the primary, grade and middle schools to separate bus pick-up areas from personal vehicle lanes

* A new $6.2 million, 4,000-seat stadium with artificial turf and an eight-lane track to replace the one next to the middle school.

The current stadium doesn't have locker rooms — the visiting team changes in the middle school and the home team at the high school — and doesn't have enough seating or parking for home football games, school leaders said.

Also, the track only has six lanes instead of the standard eight, making track meets hours longer and the track unusable for tournaments, said Robin Williams, a primary school P.E. teacher and the high school track coach.

The stadium would be next to the high school. The turf would allow the field to be used for soccer games and band practice.

Part of the district's need to update buildings stems from a $10 million bond issue in 2004 that didn't deliver on all its promises, bond supporters said.

Soon after the bond passed, construction prices skyrocketed with increases in steel prices, said Lanzrath, who is owner of Executive Plumbing and Sons.

As a result, the district had to trim bond projects.

But rock-bottom construction prices now could make this bond much different.

"We'll try to take advantage in construction costs so when we're done with this, we're not behind already," he said.

Good, bad timing

The recession is seen as one huge hurdle to passing the bond issue.

But the recession is why this might be the best — and only — chance Mulvane has to take advantage of state aid as well as low interest rates and construction prices, Lanzrath said.

"Because of the recession, people say it's a bad time for this for the same reasons it's a good time," he said.

Construction companies with slow business eagerly bid on the first few projects of the $370 million Wichita school bond that was passed last year.

The most recent classroom addition up for bid received proposals from 10 companies. The lowest and winning bid came in more than $157,000 under budget.

Interest rates are at a 50-year low, said Steve Shogren, school financial adviser and vice president at George K. Baum and Co.

Also, the state aid for bond issues might disappear as the state faces a budget crisis.

Schools that don't pass a bond issue before the end of the spring legislative session might be out of luck, supporters said.

If the state pulls its portion of bond payments, the resolution on the ballot gives the school board authority to cut projects or cancel the entire bond plan, Shogren said.

Schools vs. casino

Although many in the city are focused on bringing a state-run casino to the area, school bond supporters are trying to separate the plan as far from the uncertain future of a casino as possible.

"We have more chance of increasing enrollment because of the (school) facilities than with that casino," Lanzrath said.

A casino would have minimal effects on the bond issue financing, Shogren said. It would add an estimated $56 million to the district's tax base, but shouldn't dramatically increase enrollment because casino employees are expected to commute, not move into the district, Shogren said.

Uncertain voters

Parents picking up their students at Munson Primary recently said they had heard of the bond campaign through automated telephone calls. But some said they probably wouldn't vote.

"I don't know if it's a great time" with a rough economy, said Gina Hively, who has four children attending Mulvane schools. "I don't know it's the time for a new school with a big football field."

Williams, the track coach and P.E. teacher, said she was at first hesitant about a bond issue because of the added tax and the disappointment of the 2004 plan.

She said it came down to a matter of pride and opportunity for her children. Surrounding suburban districts, such as Maize, Goddard and Derby, have new schools and stadiums.

"My kids go to this school district," Williams said. "As a parent, I want my kid to have the same advantage as anyone around here."

Reach Lori Yount at 316-268-6269 or lyount@wichitaeagle.com.

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