A Sedgwick County commissioner said Tuesday he is “disgusted” by the idea of closing Southeast High School and building a new school at 127th Street East and Pawnee.
“I know what that would do to that area of town,” Chairman Jim Skelton said of closing Southeast. “It’s ridiculous in my opinion.”
He said he doesn’t want to see children in his district, which includes south Wichita, bused to school.
“I think the kids and parents deserve a school there,” Skelton said of Southeast.
Wichita schools are considering whether to build a new high school big enough for Southeast’s current enrollment and projected growth in the area. Superintendent John Allison said Monday night that such a project would cost about $54 million.
The board is weighing that option against spending $13 million – plus the cost to purchase property – to expand and renovate Southeast.
The Eagle reported in January that County Manager William Buchanan met with Allison and Wichita City Manager Bob Layton about the possibility of using Southeast for a city-county law enforcement training center instead of building a $30 million project at the Heartland Preparedness Center at I-135 and K-96. The city has said that it does not want to go into Southeast and remains committed to building at Heartland with the Kansas National Guard.
Skelton said he also is not interested in using Southeast for that purpose “at this time.” And he added he is concerned about infrastructure costs associated with a new school at 127th and Pawnee.
“If you go out to that area, it’s a rural area,” Skelton said. “127th is a dirt road to the south. Pawnee is a two-lane country road. Any costs associated with development not covered by the schools would have to be borne by the county, and now is not the time to be coming up with new projects.”
Commissioner Richard Ranzau told Skelton he agreed that neighborhoods decline without a school.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said, “I think we need to let the school board go through the analysis and let them make a decision.”
Unruh said he thinks the current Southeast could work as a training center. City and county law enforcement now train at a former school at 37th Street North and Amidon.
“Southeast could be an option if we can get the city on board,” Unruh said. “I’d like to use in with conjunction with the Wichita police force, but I don’t think there’s will over there right now to do something like that.”
Unruh said he understood Skelton and Ranzau’s concerns about how closing a school, especially if it’s left empty, can affect a neighborhood.
“But I think all that can be alleviated by the appropriate use of that building,” he said.
He also said communities across the county have built new schools and “if they need a little support (for infrastructure), we’ll figure out how we can help them. We need to create and maintain county roads. If we have time to plan for it, we’ll be a good community partner.”