Construction projects keep Wichita school district busy

Julie Hedrick, director of facilities for the Wichita school district, won’t get to rest much over the next few months.

“It’s going to be very, very busy,” Hedrick said. “And extremely exciting.”

A record number of school construction projects are under way simultaneously as part of the 2008 bond issue, making this spring and summer one of the busiest ever for the district and its contractors.

Five new schools, including Wichita’s first new high school in more than 30 years, are nearing completion and will open in August.

Crews also are working at more than two dozen other school sites, scrambling to finish storm shelters, classroom additions and other projects before students return from summer vacation next August.

Those projects, along with a new boundary plan approved by the school board last month, have prompted a gamut of other decisions and to-do lists, from reassigning teachers and principals to designing new bus routes to figuring out how many lunches go where.

“It’s an enormous undertaking,” Hedrick said.

School projects nearing completion include:

•  A $31 million high school at 53rd North and Rock Road, the new site of Northeast Magnet High School.

•  A new $16 million K-8 school near 143rd East and Pawnee.

•  Three new elementary schools: Ortiz Elementary, at 33rd North and Arkansas; an open magnet and neighborhood school near 31st South and Seneca; and the new Isely Traditional Magnet at 53rd North and Woodlawn.

•  A $10.4 million addition at East High that includes a music suite, theater, child development center and classroom space.

•  An $18 million expansion at Heights High that includes a new gym, locker rooms, swimming pool, classrooms and offices.

•  A $14.3 million addition at South High that includes a music suite, classroom renovations and a new electrical system generator.

The district also will close five buildings at the end of this school year: Northeast Magnet High and four elementaries – Bryant, Emerson, Lincoln and Mueller.

Hedrick said it’s still unclear what will happen to those properties, but the district will continue to monitor and maintain them. Superintendent John Allison told school board members he plans to compile a “master plan” of district properties and present options in coming months.

School closures and reassignments will affect about 10 percent of the district, or 5,000 students. Before spring break, officials sent letters to those families explaining the changes and their options, along with a letter of intent parents must return by Monday.

Meanwhile, at schools slated for closure, teachers will be reassigned, supplies packed, records transferred and furniture moved, all part of a domino effect of activity happening district-wide, Hedrick said.

“Our intention is to get everybody communicating with each other, making sure nothing falls through the cracks,” Hedrick said.

Local builders and design firms say both the 2000 and 2008 bond issues provided crucial work when the economy faltered, and the flurry of activity this spring and summer is no different.

“Since we’re a small local company, we don’t do a lot of work outside the area,” said Bev Sauerwein, vice president for corporate services at Sauerwein Construction in Wichita.

Company projects at several local elementary schools – including Gardiner, Cessna, White and Colvin – have “definitely helped, that’s for sure,” Sauerwein said.

Hedrick said a mild winter has kept most construction on or ahead of schedule. After the school year ends May 23 and teachers vacate classrooms, crews will start painting, polishing floors and doing other tasks that normally happen over the summer months.

“We will still be doing all of our regular maintenance” in addition to readying new schools, she said. The frenetic summer will be worth it when students return next fall, she said.

“You see the kids walk in the buildings and they’re so excited, so thrilled, their eyes just get wide,” Hedrick said. “It really is exciting.”

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