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Allison: New high school in southeast Wichita would cost $54 million

  • Published Monday, March 11, 2013, at 11:41 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

Building a new high school large enough to accommodate Southeast High School’s current enrollment and projected growth would cost about $54 million, Wichita superintendent John Allison told school board members Monday.

That’s about $16 million more than proposed in the 2008 bond issue, which called for a smaller high school on land near 127th Street East and Pawnee.

Allison reviewed 15 unfinished bond projects during a special meeting and made several recommendations, but offered only options and a directive about Southeast High:

“I’m going to be very straightforward,” Allison told board members. “You can’t afford to do the current Southeast and open a brand new high school.”

Allison recommended dropping projects altogether at five schools: Chisholm Life Skills Center, Greiffenstein/Wells Special Education Center, Levy Special Education Center, Metro-Meridian Alternative High School and Payne Elementary.

Special education services have changed dramatically since 2008, so enrollment is steady or down in some centers. Those schools, as well as Metro Meridian and Payne, no longer need the projects proposed in 2008, Allison said.

He recommended moving forward with bond work at Coleman, Hamilton and Robinson middle schools – offering options for expanding or scaling back projects – and at Caldwell and Woodland elementaries.

The remaining projects – Little Pre-K Center, Sowers Special Education Center and a $10 million technical education program – should remain on hold, Allison said.

More details on the remaining projects and Allison’s input were posted late Monday on the district’s website, http://www.usd259.org/.

But Allison offered no recommendation on the largest and most controversial of the remaining projects: whether to build a new high school or spend more than $13 million plus property costs to expand and renovate Southeast High.

The new Northeast Magnet High School in Bel Aire, which opened last fall, cost about $35.6 million. It came in under budget, as many early bond projects did, because of competitive construction bids that lowered costs, officials said.

Board president Lynn Rogers said board members will discuss the options for Southeast at their next meeting March 25. He said he plans to gather public input and explore the possibilities, but wants the board to make a decision within the next couple months.

“Southeast (High) kids and parents deserve an answer, so we can move forward or not move forward,” he said. “We have to grapple with this.”

Allison said 2,100 students live within the Southeast High attendance boundaries, but only about 1,600 attend the school, at Lincoln and Edgemoor.

Of Wichita’s comprehensive high schools, Southeast sends the most students to Northeast Magnet and to the International Baccalaureate program at East High, Allison said.

Several speakers urged the board not to move Southeast to a new school, or to better involve the community in discussions.

“How many kids will be bused?” asked Don Landis. “What is the impact on the kids? … The public has a right to ask questions and to get honest answers.”

Janice Bradley said closing Southeast or using it for something else would be “a cruel decision, especially against poor people.”

Board member Barbara Fuller said many Wichitans don’t seem to understand how dramatically the district’s financial situation has changed since 2008. Because of reductions in state and federal funding, the district couldn’t afford to open and staff all the proposed new buildings without closing others.

“We do have a problem here. It’s called money,” Fuller said.

Mueller sale

During their regular board meeting Monday, board members voted 4-2 to approve the sale of the former Mueller Elementary School, one of five schools that closed last spring because of new boundaries and cost-cutting measures.

Mark Cox, owner of Vintage Construction in Wichita, said he plans to apply for tax credits and turn the school – at 2821 E. 24th St. North, northwest of 21st and Hillside – into multi-family housing. He expects to start construction in 2014.

Board members Jeff Davis and Betty Arnold voted against the sale, saying Cox’s winning bid – $56,000 for a property appraised at $1.7 million – was too low. Arnold said she heard “a great deal of dissatisfaction” from constituents about the price.

Rogers agreed.

“When I heard the price, I was kind of appalled,” he said.

But he and three other board members – Fuller, Connie Dietz and Sheril Logan – voted in favor of the sale because of the ongoing cost to secure and maintain the property. They also questioned whether the district could get a better offer by selling it later.

Allison said the district has spent $62,000 on utilities, maintenance and security at Mueller since it closed last May. He said mothballing it long-term would cost the district between $40,000 and $100,000 a year.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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