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Board member: Moving Southeast High ‘would actually save $2 million’

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, March 25, 2013, at 10:59 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 11, 2014, at 7:35 a.m.

The way Wichita school board member Connie Dietz figures it, building a new, $54 million high school in the southeast quadrant of the district could end up saving taxpayers money.

Officials said Monday that expanding and renovating Southeast High School as proposed in the 2008 bond issue would cost upward of $14 million – possibly more, depending on costs for property acquisition. A new 800-student, Class 5A high school at 127th Street East and Pawnee, also proposed in the bond issue, would cost about $42 million, they said. That’s about $56 million total.

So moving Southeast to a new, larger building with more than 100 acres for ball fields, tennis courts, tracks, soccer fields, green space and parking “would actually save $2 million,” Dietz said.

Board members took no action on unfinished bond issue projects at their meeting Monday but talked in greater detail about options, particularly regarding Southeast High School, the largest remaining project.

Superintendent John Allison and bond manager Kenton Cox, of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, presented rough sketches of a proposed addition to Southeast High that showed baseball and softball fields extending west past Pinecrest Street.

The district would need about four acres – between 20 and 30 homes along Pinecrest – to build athletic facilities according to “established standards,” Allison said. Even after the proposed expansion, he said, Southeast – which opened in 1957 at Lincoln and Edgemoor – would be one of the district’s smallest campuses.

Early in the meeting, several speakers urged the board not to close Southeast. Later, Allison clarified that the school could move to a new building but that “Southeast will not disappear.”

“The high school is not being closed and students redistributed to other buildings,” he said. “That is not at all what we discussed.

“The traditions of Southeast, all of that, stays,” Allison said. “Southeast would continue to exist as it has, as a very viable, important part of Wichita public schools.”

He also pledged that, should board members decide to build a new Southeast High in the far reaches of the district, the current school “will not be an empty building.”

School officials have hinted for nearly a year that the district can’t afford to renovate Southeast High and open a new high school because state per-pupil funding has not reached the level predicted during the 2008 bond campaign.

On Monday, Allison said some residents’ frustration at board members over unfulfilled bond promises “is misdirected.”

“The frustration should be at the failure of our state to adequately fund public education,” he said. “These discussions … are not because of bond dollars. They’re because of operating expenses – our ability to pay salaries, to pay the bills, to pay utilities.”

Should the board choose to relocate Southeast to a new building at 127th Street East and Pawnee, “there will be a transportation cost aspect that we’ll need to address,” Allison said. “And we’re working on that.”

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

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