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Friday, June 27, 2014

Nine Wichita school bond projects get green light; some scaled back

By Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle

The Wichita district will move forward on bond projects at nine schools that were put on hold last year, but several will be different than originally proposed.

School board members voted unanimously Monday to move forward with projects at seven elementaries and two middle schools: Adams, Black, Curtis, Hyde, Jardine, McLean, OK, Park and Pleasant Valley Elementary.

The projects total more than $8 million and include storm shelters, classrooms, secure entryways and library renovations.

Work at OK Elementary, including renovated classrooms and restrooms to serve special-needs students, will begin this summer. The school will get an additional $445,000 in bond work to make room for students transferring from Bryant Elementary, which will close in May.

Projects at some schools were scaled back significantly because they included new classrooms intended to lower the average class size.

When officials put more than 30 bond projects on hold last year because of budget constraints, they said projects intended for class-size reduction likely would be scrapped because they couldn’t afford to staff additional classrooms.

Hyde Elementary was supposed to get $750,000 in bond money for four new classrooms. Park Elementary was expecting $600,000 for three classrooms. Instead, each school will get a new secure entryway for $50,000.

Other schools, including OK and Adams, are expecting enrollment increases because of a new boundary plan and will get additional classrooms.

Kenton Cox, an architect with Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, the district’s bond manager, said his firm “looked at each of those projects on pause … to see which projects make sense and fit the criteria we need” to move forward.

“These are just the first few,” Cox said. “We’ll continue the evaluation process.”

Superintendent John Allison said leaders remain committed to building Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelters at every school.

The $370 million bond plan, approved in 2008, included 60 safe rooms. They include libraries, gymnasiums, cafeterias and fine-arts suites that are “hardened” — reinforced with 10 to 12 inches of concrete — to be strong enough to withstand an EF-5 tornado.

But the district had counted on federal FEMA grants to help pay for the shelters, and that funding could be about $13 million short, Cox said. One option could be to shift money from other bond projects — including those proposed at five schools slated for closure — to build storm shelters, he said.

“We have been looking at the remaining projects, and some of it (cost savings) will have to come from some of those,” Cox said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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