May 23, 2012

School board to vote on funds for North High expansion

Wichita district close to getting last properties needed for North High expansion

Wichita district close to getting last properties needed for North High expansion

The Wichita school district soon will have all the property it needs to get started expanding athletic facilities at North High School.

The total price tag: More than $2.7 million.

During a special board meeting Thursday, school board members will vote on a proposal to pay about $744,000 for eight properties that sit just north of the school, near 15th Street and Arkansas. It would be the final step under the district’s power of eminent domain to acquire land from unwilling sellers or absentee property owners.

The meeting will be at noon in Room 917 of the Alvin E. Morris Administrative Center, 201 N. Water.

If approved, Thursday’s vote will mark the end of a land acquisition process that has taken nearly two years, rankled several property owners and cost the district $2,738,840 for 31 properties, closing costs, state-mandated moving costs and court fees.

“This would be the end, and we’re glad,” said Superintendent John Allison. “It’s been a long process.”

Plans for new outdoor athletic facilities at North High call for a football field, a track, a practice soccer field, two ball diamonds and tennis courts. They are part of more than $12 million in upgrades planned for the school as part of the 2008 bond issue.

Board members voted in November to authorize surveys of 10 properties near North. As part of the eminent domain process, a Sedgwick County District Court judge appointed three appraisers to set a selling price for the properties.

District officials have recommended the board authorize a payment to the court of $744,180 – $691,500 for the properties, plus appraisal fees and court costs.

Board members have said they expected that acquiring land for the North High project would be challenging because of its location and the number of land owners involved.

North High, which sits on 26 acres, is the district’s smallest high school campus. It is along the Little Arkansas River in the densely populated Midtown neighborhood.

The time and cost involved in securing enough property to expand landlocked schools is something board members will revisit again in coming months, as they consider whether or how to move forward with plans to expand Southeast High School.

Leaders said recently they may consider forgoing a proposed bond issue project at Southeast, near Lincoln and Edgemoor, and instead build a new, larger Southeast High School at 127th East and Pawnee.

A $12 million expansion and renovation at Southeast High, which would include a new gym, storm shelters, classrooms and athletic and fine arts facilities, has been on hold for more than a year. A new high school in southeast Wichita, one of six new schools proposed in the $370 million bond issue, also was put on hold as the district dealt with budget cuts and a new boundary plan.

The district has not sold bonds for the proposed $38 million high school, and the school hasn’t been designed. But the district bought property for it in 2010 – about 125 acres, which it recently leased to a farmer.

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