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Unfinished bond projects Wichita board member favoring new building for Southeast High

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, March 31, 2013, at 8:41 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

As Wichita school officials sift through options for more than a dozen unfinished bond projects, at least one school board member says he’s leaning toward moving Southeast High School to a new building.

“I just think it’s what’s best for the district and what’s best for our students,” said Jeff Davis, vice president of the board, who represents southwest Wichita.

“With a new building, you’re going to get back to what the standards are for Southeast and all the other high schools. … If we move them, they’re going to have state-of-the-art classrooms and state-of-the-art athletic fields, and they won’t have to be sharing space with Curtis (Middle School) or Caldwell (Elementary).

“I’ve thought about it a lot, and the more I think about it, the more I’m leaning toward building (a new school).”

District leaders are considering forgoing a proposed expansion of Southeast High, at Lincoln and Edgemoor, and instead moving the school to a new, $54 million building on land the district owns at 127th Street East and Pawnee.

Don Landis, who lives in the Southeast High boundaries and opposes moving the school, says board members “have not considered the ramifications for that community that they’re leaving high and dry, and that’s unfortunate.”

Superintendent John Allison told board members last week that renovating and expanding Southeast would cost about $14 million and possibly more, depending on costs for property acquisition.

A $370 million bond issue approved by voters in 2008 called for improvements to Southeast High in addition to a new 800-student, Class 5A high school in the far southeast corner of the district. Now officials say they can’t do both because state funding is well below the levels expected when they developed the bond plan.

Board president Lynn Rogers said he hasn’t gathered enough information to say whether he favors improving the current school or building a new one. The board meets again April 8.

“The big issue is going to be, can we get the land that we need at the current Southeast to provide the type of facility that every other high school student in Wichita deserves and has?” Rogers said.

“There’s a lot of listening we still have to do. But people have to understand, we have to look at what’s best for kids not just today, but in 50 years.”

The district has about $71 million in bond funds remaining from the 2008 bond issue, Allison said.

The slate of remaining projects – minus five that Allison has recommended dropping altogether – would cost up to $64 million. A new high school large enough to accommodate Southeast High’s current enrollment plus projected growth in the southeast quadrant would cost about $54 million, he said.

Allison has suggested keeping three other bond projects on hold – Little Early Childhood Center, Sowers Special Education Center and a $10 million technical education magnet – while officials evaluate new regulations that could affect enrollment at those schools or the way technical education is administered throughout the district.

Davis, the board vice president, said he hasn’t made his final decision about building a new Southeast High, but said, “I’ve thought about it and looked at the plans, and I think it’s probably the right way to go.”

He added, “I know that Southeast will not sit empty. There’s a lot of potential plans for that building, and I feel like if the people will just bear with us … you’re going to see that it’s not going to hurt the neighborhood.”

Landis, who opposes the move, said he’ll continue to push for Southeast High to stay put.

“Unfortunately their promises and their guarantees ring hollow. They should be willing to take their ideas and go out and defend them. In 2008, they were all over the place” gathering support for the bond issue, he said.

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

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