A nearly $600,000 upgrade to the heating and air-conditioning system at South High School may be the first of several costly maintenance projects facing the Wichita school district, officials said.
Superintendent John Allison said heating and cooling systems installed as part of the district’s 2000 bond issue are “approaching end of life” and will need major repairs or upgrades in coming years.
School board members voted unanimously Monday to approve a contract with Don Vaughn Inc. for $595,200 to upgrade the heating and air conditioning in an older portion of South High, which opened in 1959.
“This is something we’re going to see on a more regular basis over the next several years,” Allison told board members.
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“We have an aggressive preventative maintenance program, but … we’re going to begin to see the costs accelerate as most of those units are older and approach end of life.”
In April 2000, voters in the Wichita district approved a $284.5 million bond issue, which focused largely on air-conditioning and other infrastructure upgrades.
Eight years later, voters approved a $370 million bond issue to build new schools, storm shelters, libraries, auditoriums, athletic facilities and more.
Since then, however, cuts in state funding forced the district to scale back on bond work and delay capital projects. Wichita also used about $12 million in capital outlay funds for instructional expenses rather than bricks-and-mortar projects, taking advantage of looser restrictions on the fund, Allison said.
“We’ve put off deferred maintenance and upgrades, and there comes a point in time where you can’t do that,” he said.
“We didn’t have a choice. But by doing that, it’s going to create the potential for large expenditures as well as a real planning issue for us as we move forward.”
Board president Sheril Logan said she hopes a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling will boost funding for schools, which would allow the state’s largest school district to catch up on maintenance and upgrades.
“Just like with a home, you have to have certain maintenance over time, and we have to do that with our buildings as well,” Logan said.
Allison said his staff is developing a plan for short- and long-term capital needs and will present it to board members soon.
“What we need to do or what we’re able to do because of dollars may not necessarily be the same,” he said.
“It’s important that we maintain these (buildings) as well, or we’ll get back where we were prior to the 2000 bond issue, where … you almost have to have another bond issue to be able to catch up. And that’s not where we want to be.”