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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Land deals approved for Southeast, Northwest

BY LORI YOUNT
The Wichita Eagle

Saying they were satisfied with administrators' information on property negotiations, the Wichita school board Monday approved a deal that would buy land for a new southeast high school and possibly allow commercial development in front of Northwest High School.

The vote was 6-1.

Board member Lanora Nolan, whose district includes Northwest, cast the only "no" vote, objecting to giving a one-year option to Occidental Management to buy 12 acres at 13th and Tyler for about $1 million.

"The transaction you described is misleading because it looks like we're selling one piece of property to get another," she said. "It feels like we're taking from one to give to another."

In exchange for an opportunity to buy the Northwest property that the district has owned for four decades, Occidental would sell the school district 125 acres near Pawnee and 127th Street East for $1.56 million for one of the two new high schools in the 2008 bond plan.

If Occidental buys the land, the proceeds would be deposited in the district's capital account, which has been depleted by $4.6 million because of state budget cuts.

"I know this isn't popular, and it's not something I'd really like to do, but I feel like we have to," board member Lynn Rogers said. "We happen to be sitting on a $1 million savings account."

Chief Operations Officer Martin Libhart presented the board with a list of about two dozen allowable uses, which would be part of a deed covenant if Occidental buys the land. The list includes a convenience store, funeral home, offices, and indoor recreation and entertainment.

Occidental Management CEO Michael Monteferrante told the board he and district officials both agreed to the list.

"If and when we have an opportunity to work with that portion of that corner, I can assure you we will have a close working relationship with (the) Northwest Site Council committee and area neighborhood associations," said Monteferrante, adding he is a father of three Wichita schools students.

Parent and recent school board candidate Peter Grant spoke against selling the land.

"It's a big asset for Northwest," he said. "You should not sell out the residents of the school district."

Nolan, who sounded choked with emotion toward the end of explaining her dissent, said she thought the district didn't give residents enough information — the same residents who voted for a $370 million bond issue last year.

"We didn't go out to them with same vigor in passing the bond issue," she said. "And while you're sleeping ... part of the vote was to sell off part of your campus. It leaves the community with more questions than answers."

Linwood cafeteria

The board also approved a $1.8 million contract with Brecko Construction for a classroom and cafeteria addition to Linwood Elementary School as part of the bond issue.

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

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