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Group to present school options for possible Maize bond issue

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at 10:12 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at 12:03 a.m.

A group advising Maize schools has named its top priorities for facilities needs, laying the groundwork for what could be the district’s first bond issue in seven years.

The committee on Monday will present a proposal for nearly $85 million in school projects, including a new middle school and more than $20 million in athletic improvements.

The group, which has been meeting since 2011, has proposed:

• A third middle school, estimated to cost $32 million, and another $9 million in renovations to Maize Middle School to address increased enrollment at the middle-school level.

• A $10 million aquatic center with stadium seating to accommodate championship swimming and diving events.

• Another $10.7 million for sports amenities and improvements, including stadium upgrades, locker rooms, new turf fields and more, at both high schools. According to a document the committee will present to the Maize school board, the district’s athletic facilities are “starting to show their age” and cannot accommodate modern technology.

• A Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelter at Maize High School.

• A new Early Childhood Center designed specifically for infants through preschoolers, estimated to cost $6.5 million.

• An improved transportation building to allow for better maintenance and operation of the district’s fleet of school buses and other vehicles. Estimated cost: $8 million.

• And an $8.5 million Career and Professional Center, with modern classrooms for programs such as health science, agriculture, culinary arts and engineering.

Maize Superintendent Doug Powers said the project ideas and dollar figures are preliminary, and they don’t include costs for staffing, furniture or equipment.

According to the committee report, an $80 million bond issue would translate to 5.62 mills – a property tax increase of about $65 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

A telephone survey of Maize voters conducted last year by Patron Insight showed solid support for a bond issue between $65 million and $85 million, as long as voters agreed with the proposed projects.

“It wasn’t about the dollar value,” Powers said. “It was more about people’s perceptions of the items that were on the list.

“They were more interested in knowing more about what we were planning.”

Bond issues tend to garner plenty of support in Maize, a district of about 7,000 students that includes much of west Wichita. Since 1977, voters have approved six bond issues worth $120 million.

Nearly two-thirds of Maize voters voted yes for the latest bond issue – nearly $60 million in April 2007 – which financed a new Maize South Middle School, converted an existing middle school to Maize South High, built a new elementary school and expanded others.

‘Chicken-egg thing’

A new bond issue would be the first for Powers in Maize. The district’s former superintendent, Craig Elliott, resigned in 2007, less than a week after the bond issue was approved.

And this one will be complicated by another issue board members are grappling with: student placement. Maize is considering several options for changing the way it assigns students to schools, including boundaries, feeder patterns, reconfiguring grade levels in certain buildings or some combination.

“It’s kind of a chicken-egg thing,” Powers said. “Your facilities can drive how you place kids, and how you place kids could drive what you do with your facilities.”

Powers said officials with the district’s architect, Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, advised him: “Let’s decide what the best placement for kids is, and then we’ll modify the facilities to fit it.”

One placement option, for example, calls for building a third middle school; two middle schools would feed directly to Maize High and the other to Maize South High. Another option calls for turning elementaries into K-6 schools, both middle schools into 7-8 schools and Maize South High into a ninth-grade center.

But any placement system that requires new buildings could make board members nervous, Powers said.

“If we don’t have confidence that we can pass a bond issue – because of the economy, because of politics, whatever it is – they may … say, ‘OK, we’re going to have to let facilities drive how we place kids, because that’s just the spot we’re in.’ ”

Monday’s meeting, set for 7 p.m. at Pray-Woodman Elementary, is an informal workshop for board members. They will discuss placement options and hear a presentation from the facilities needs committee but are not expected to take action.

Gauging support

In the telephone survey of district residents, which gauged support for a “hypothetical” bond issue as well as several individual projects, tornado shelters at Maize High drew the strongest support. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote in favor of a bond issue if it included a storm shelter at the school, which houses about 1,450 students and staff members.

A conceptual drawing in the committee report shows two shelter spaces – one on the north side of the school and one on the south – to “reduce travel distances” to the safe rooms during severe weather.

Survey respondents showed more modest support for renovations to Maize Middle School, construction of a third middle school and construction of a career and technical education center.

A proposed aquatic center drew somewhat more support than opposition. Preliminary plans call for a natatorium with a 50-meter-by-25-yard pool and elevated seating for 750, similar to one at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka. The center would be used by swimming and diving teams, physical education classes and community members, Powers said.

Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to vote in favor of a bond issue if it included a new pool complex, 31 percent said they would be more likely to vote against it, and 25 percent said it wouldn’t make a difference.

Powers said a swimming pool was proposed when officials first drew up plans for the 2007 bond issue. “But it didn’t test very well (in polls), so it was removed,” he said.

“We moved on, and it came back up with our facilities group. And interestingly, it was one of the top issues for them as a group. They were in favor of it.”

Currently, Maize’s high school swim teams practice at the Northwest YMCA, near 135th Street West and 21st Street North. A district aquatic center would free up more public swim time at the YMCA, Powers said, and would allow Maize schools to include swimming instruction as part of physical education.

“Anytime we do anything, it’s got to be curriculum-related,” he said. “Giving our kids the ability … to have swimming instruction – when they walk out of here, they’re drown-proof – I think that is a critical thing.”

A new transportation facility would improve efficiency and allow better maintenance of the district’s bus fleet, Powers said. When Maize canceled school three days during a recent snowstorm, “the third day was because we couldn’t get our buses started,” he said.

The recent survey showed support for the district in general, Powers said, but some caution about another bond issue.

“It was more of a, ‘We like the district. We trust the district. But we’re in a wait-and-see mode,’ ” he said. “ ‘Let’s hear more about these projects, and we’ll tell you where we’re at with that.’ ”

Meanwhile, construction costs continue to rise. Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey – which also manages the Wichita district’s $370 million bond issue – said construction costs have risen from about $130 per square foot in 2010 to $170 per square foot for more recent projects.

“Sooner is better than later,” Powers said.

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

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