School board OKs new auditorium at Robinson Middle School

Robinson Middle School seventh-graders rehearse for a Christmas program in the school’s old auditorium, one of the final bond projects still being debated. (Dec. 6, 2013)
Robinson Middle School seventh-graders rehearse for a Christmas program in the school’s old auditorium, one of the final bond projects still being debated. (Dec. 6, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita school board members approved the last remaining bond projects Monday, opting to build a new auditorium at Robinson Middle School but not to replace an aging wing of classrooms at Caldwell Elementary.

Rising construction costs and cuts in federal and state funding mean there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in the final tally of bond projects. Estimates presented Monday show a $1.5 million difference in the total remaining bond funds and interest and the cost of outstanding projects.

Those projects include a new Southeast High School, which should go out for bids this year and is expected to cost nearly $60 million.

“We knew at the end of our projects we wouldn’t have much money left,” said board member Sheril Logan. “We’re just seeing it in reality right now.”

The board voted 6-0 to approve Superintendent John Allison’s recommendations for five projects. Board member Barb Fuller abstained, saying she wasn’t ready to vote.

Plans call for:

• A new 800-seat auditorium at Robinson Middle School at Second and Oliver. The school also will get a new practice gym and storm shelter, new administrative offices and a controlled-access entry. Estimated cost: $4.5 million, including $1 million in capital outlay funds.

Allison said the Robinson project was “really out of the norm,” costing about twice what was proposed in the original bond plan, while some other schools’ projects have been scaled back or even dropped altogether. Board members first approved the concept in 2011, saying Robinson’s enrollment – and especially its music program – have outgrown the school’s current auditorium, which seats only 500.

• A new multipurpose room and shelter at Caldwell Elementary, near Harry and Edgemoor – but not the replacement of a 1950s-era classroom wing. Estimated cost: $2.25 million.

Replacing 14 classrooms at the school would have added $3.5 million to the price tag and would require relocating students for a year during construction, officials said.

• Moving the district’s early childhood testing classrooms from Little Early Childhood Center to Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Center, the former Northeast Magnet High School at 17th and Chautauqua.

Officials said time is running out on Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for a storm shelter at Lewis. Plans call for a testing center that would serve as a storm shelter for students at Metro Boulevard Alternative School, which is housed in the Lewis building.

Estimated cost: $685,000 for the new testing center at Lewis and $175,000 to renovate classrooms at Little.

• Moving an in-school suspension room, adding a secure entrance and renovating restrooms at Sowers Alternative High School. Now an outbuilding, the new suspension room will be inside the main building. Estimated cost: $250,000.

Allison said enrollment at Sowers has dropped by more than 30 students since the 2008 bond issue, so a new library and classrooms are no longer needed.

Board member Lynn Rogers said the latest tally shows the bond issue “is getting a lot tighter than I had hoped it would.” He said he didn’t like the added expense for Robinson but that “people have to realize that things do change, and things have to be modified.”

Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey said construction costs have risen from $130 per square foot in 2010 to $170 per square foot.

Allison said if bids for remaining projects come back higher than expected, board members will have to reconsider projects and possibly scale back.

“If we exceed those numbers we’d have to come back and re-evaluate the scope of all these projects,” he said. “It’s tight, which is why we have been very conservative as we move forward.”

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