Wichita board OKs $4.4 million plan for Robinson Middle School

The Wichita school board on Monday approved a substantially different and more expensive bond project for Robinson Middle School.

Board members also launched their discussion about when and how to open five new schools being built as part of the 2008 bond issue, but they took no action on either the schools or attendance boundaries.

"We're not going to make everybody happy, and it's not going to be a fun ride, that's for sure," board member Lynn Rogers said about the impending boundary changes.

Superintendent John Allison said he plans to present more information to the board at its next meeting Sept. 12.

The new concept for Robinson Middle School calls for a new 800-seat auditorium and a practice gym to be built on the site of a parking lot just south of the school, at Second and Oliver.

Robinson's current art deco-style auditorium would be transformed into band and orchestra teaching space, and parking spaces would be added east of the current lot.

Martin Libhart, chief operations officer for the district, presented the plan, which is expected to cost about $4.4 million.

The original bond plan called for Robinson to get a practice gym, music classrooms and an auditorium upgrade rather than a new auditorium. It was projected to cost about $2.35 million.

"It (the new concept) will cost us some more money, but we do believe it would be a tremendous asset to the Robinson school," Libhart said.

Board members unanimously approved the new design.

Libhart said the school's "extremely outstanding music program, nationally recognized, with great student participation" prompted planners to consider adding a modern, larger auditorium.

Board member Connie Dietz urged bond manager Kenton Cox to try to preserve the historic look and character of the school's original auditorium.

"The goal would be to preserve as much of the interior decoration . . . as possible — the things on the wall, the artifacts," said Cox, an architect with Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey.

"I hope you're able to do that," Dietz said. "Because it would be a shame to destroy all that."

Libhart said the bond issue as a whole is running about $9 million under budget. That savings would fund the additions at Robinson, he said.

In coming months board members will grapple with several decisions regarding bond projects, including deciding when and how new schools will open and how to shift attendance boundaries to determine who goes where.

Faced with substantial reductions in state aid and expecting potentially deeper cuts in coming years, leaders have said some of the five schools could sit idle after they're built.

Allison said it would cost about $25 million to open five schools — money that would be required to hire staff, buy supplies and more. The new high school going up at 53rd North and Rock Road would cost about $11 million to open, he said.

Libhart said board members also should consider the cost of running older buildings and "determine what the tradeoff is, if it makes sense to continue to use the old and delay the new."