Wichita school board delays land deal

After hearing concerns tonight from Northwest High School students and parents, Wichita school board members postponed a land deal for a new southeast high school that could also sell part of Northwest's property to commercial developers.

The board held a 30-minute closed session before voting unanimously to delay consideration of the $1.56 million land purchase until the Jan. 11 meeting.

Superintendent John Allison said he recommended the board postpone the decision after receiving additional information about the transaction. He and board members said they could not discuss the information because it was talked about in the closed meeting.

Dave Depew, parent and site council chairman at Northwest, was among five speakers who asked the board to postpone the deal, which was made public Thursday. He said the site council would probably schedule its January meeting sooner to discuss the deal.

"Between now and then, we want to be better informed and make sure the community is involved in any decision-making," Depew said.

The proposed deal with Occidental Management would have the district buy 125 acres at 127th Street East and Pawnee for a new high school that voters approved last year as part of a $370 million bond issue. Occidental would also receive a one-year option to buy 12 acres at 13th and Tyler Road from the district for $1.045 million.

Occidental CEO Michael Monteferrante said Thursday that a bowling alley has been discussed as a possible business in front of Northwest.

School leaders said selling the property would soften the shortfall in the district's capital budget, which lost $4.6 million in state aid this year.

Some local commercial brokers said last week that Occidental would be buying the land near Northwest for half its value, while the school district would be spending full price for the southeast property.

Dave Depew's son, junior class president Daniel Depew, said commercial development would ruin the field in front of the school.

"My favorite time is in the middle of winter when you can see an unblemished blanket of white," he said. "A strip mall would severely damage natural beauty."

He and other speakers said commercial development on the property would take away the sense of security the buffer land provides.

"Why should sacrifice beloved land for another school to be built?" Daniel Depew said.