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Expanding Southeast High would require land district doesn’t currently have, school leaders say

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, March 24, 2013, at 11:58 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

Wichita school district leaders say they would need land to expand Southeast High School and build the amenities promised as part of the 2008 bond issue.

The properties they need – more than two dozen rental units across Pinecrest, just west of the school – happen to be owned by one of the most outspoken opponents of moving the school.

Mike Garvey, president of Builders Inc. and one of the founders of SaveSoutheast.com, says his interest in keeping Southeast High at Lincoln and Edgemoor has to do with saving the neighborhood, not selling property to the district.

Some board members and other district leaders have said the district could forgo a proposed expansion at Southeast and instead build a new, larger Southeast High on land the district owns at Pawnee and 127th Street East.

Garvey said about 10 acres of vacant land just west of the school and east of Pinecrest should be enough for a new gymnasium, natatorium, athletic fields and parking.

Superintendent John Allison disagrees.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Allison will present more information about 15 unfinished bond projects, including, possibly, rough sketches of the proposed expansion at Southeast that could illustrate the challenges of renovating another landlocked high school.

“I think we learned a lot from our experience at North (High),” board member Connie Dietz said. “That made us much more cautious when it comes to purchasing more property.”

The district spent two years and more than $2.7 million to acquire about 4 acres it needed to expand outdoor athletic facilities at North High, the district’s smallest campus. Some of the 31 properties were purchased under the district’s power of eminent domain.

Since buying the aging homes near 15th Street and Arkansas, the district has spent another $500,000 on asbestos abatement, demolition and related costs and expects to spend more to relocate underground utilities, officials said.

Allison said costs could be similar at Southeast.

“Until you get into that process, it’s difficult” to estimate costs, Allison told board members earlier this month. “It easily will be … in the millions.”

Then he added, with a smile, “You never know. Maybe the property owner makes a donation to the district. It’s happened.”

He likely was referring to 43 acres of land donated to the district by Koch Industries for Stucky Middle School.

Garvey said after that meeting that he wasn’t interested in doing that.

“We don’t have any vacant land,” he said. “There’s plenty of other vacant property around there. … Let’s get a drawing (of the proposed expansion) on the vacant land they already own.”

At Monday’s board meeting at 6 p.m. at the North High lecture hall, Allison will present additional information about Southeast and other unfinished bond projects as well as an update on the district’s transition to Common Core Standards.

Dietz and other board members said they will have to weigh the costs of property acquisition against increased costs to enlarge the new school.

Earlier this month, Allison said building a new high school large enough to accommodate Southeast’s current enrollment and projected growth would cost about $54 million. That’s about $16 million more than proposed in the original bond plan, which called for a smaller high school, and $40 million more than the proposed Southeast expansion.

It’s also unclear how moving Southeast might affect transportation or other expenses.

“Of all the bond-related decisions that we have to make, this is probably the most difficult one,” Dietz said. “I take every decision I make very seriously at that table. With this one, again, I’m going to have to listen very carefully to the information I receive.”

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

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