Southeast’s neighbors ponder future of area if school moves

06/22/2013 4:20 PM

08/06/2014 2:16 AM

She wonders what will happen to the kids.

The change would be unsettling, the neighborhoods so starkly different, she says.

Students at Southeast High School at 903 S. Edgemoor might be leaving an urban neighborhood with older homes and a growing minority population for a new school in a rural area at 127th Street East and Pawnee.

So Angelia Hurd wonders what will happen to the kids. They have good attitudes and work hard now, she said. The change may hurt them, which would hurt the neighborhood.

“This economy’s in enough turmoil without these kids getting turmoil thrown into their lives being moved around, and the change of being a teenager and being ripped into another environment like that,” she said.

“There might be a lot less kids graduate. They’re not going to want to go.”

The Wichita school board is slated to decide Monday whether to renovate the existing Southeast High or close it and build a new, larger school nearly 6 miles farther south and east. Southeast High draws students from much of east and all of southeast Wichita.

The neighborhood closest to the existing school includes residential, tree-lined streets lined with small houses to the east, strip malls at the major intersections at Lincoln and Harry, and row after row of apartment units to the west and north. Those who live around Southeast generally hope the board keeps it active in the neighborhood, fearing the area will lose its identity and deteriorate without a school that has been a neighbor since 1957.

The proposed site for a new Southeast is an empty field, with a few housing subdivisions rising in the distance and a golf course east of the intersection. Some residents near the site would welcome a large high school in the area, while others have said they want a smaller school as originally proposed in the 2008 bond issue.

Jack and Jennie Rhoades have lived in their house on Pineridge, two blocks east of the existing Southeast, for 63 years. They have seen the neighborhood become more diverse.

“I haven’t seen anything real bad about it,” Jack Rhoades said.

“No, we’ve got a good neighborhood here,” said Jennie Rhoades.

An Asian family lives next door. Black and Hispanic families live just down the street.

“No problems,” Jack Rhoades said.

Some of the kids at Southeast may cut class and hang out in the neighborhood, but they are like kids at any other school, they said. They don’t want to lose Southeast.

Nor does Juanita Wilhelm, 84, and her husband, Gene, 82. They have a sign in the front yard on Pineridge urging passersby to save Southeast. An American flag flies from their fence. A red, white and blue bench sits on the porch.

They have lived in the neighborhood for 17 years and have seen the people change as houses became rental properties after the previous owners died or moved on.

Their neighbors on one side are Hispanic. Their neighbors on the other side are Asian. They don’t know either of them.

“You just don’t know your neighbors anymore, and I think it’s just going to get worse,” Juanita Wilhelm said. “If they move that high school, I might move, even at my age.”

Keith and Loretta Pendergraft are 94. They designed and built their home on Zimmerly, east of the school, in 1952. They want Southeast to stay.

Their daughter went to all three schools along that stretch of Edgemoor — Caldwell Elementary School, Curtis Middle School and Southeast. She graduated from Southeast in 1965.

The neighborhood has drawn people who want their kids to be able to walk to school, said Loretta Pendergraft. She hopes those who came to have their children educated won’t be disappointed.

“These people have come in here with the idea their children will not have to be bused,” she said.

She likes the fact that Wichita Area Technical College has expressed interest in moving into the building if the high school moves out.

“A neighborhood benefits from a nearby school of any kind,” Loretta Pendergraft said.

Sharde Martin, a single mother who lives on Beverly, just north of the school that she attended from 2000 to 2003, thinks Southeast should be renovated.

She, too, worries about the neighborhood if the school leaves.

“I think it would be a totally different neighborhood without Southeast High School,” Martin said.

The new location

Out around 127th Street East and Pawnee, housing subdivisions to the north and west of the intersection have names like Casa Bella and Sierra Hills.

The Sierra Hills Golf Club is a half-mile east of the proposed new site. To the south are large homes on spacious properties with gated driveways.

Some of the residents near there have said they want the district to keep its bond promise to build a smaller, Class 5A high school on the site rather than one that would be larger than the current Southeast.

But Cecil Rogers, a retired military man who lives in the area and spends a lot of time at the golf club, said, “I just think it would be good to have it out here. A lot of smart kids out here go to Derby. I don’t know if that would change.

“I know a lot of people out here, and I think everybody I know would give a positive answer.”

Iliana Vasquez, 15, lives in a subdivision on 127th, just north of Pawnee. Her family moved there from Los Angeles a year ago. She already attends Southeast and wouldn’t mind seeing her school and her classmates move in.

“It would be better because the neighborhood can be kind of lonely,” she said. “But it would be chaotic because there would be a lot more traffic coming in and out of the school.”

Cheryl Relph, who has lived in one of the subdivisions for nearly five years, has two children, ages 2 and 4.

“It would really be OK with me just because eventually my kids would be going to that school and it would be close,” she said.

The idea of increased traffic on school days may be a concern, she said.

“But we have our fenced yard, so it doesn’t bother me too much.” she said.

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