Wichita school board approves second sale of bonds for new schools

Projects for the $370 million bond issue for Wichita schools are moving along faster than expected, administrators said.

The school board approved the second sale of bonds this week.

With the recession hitting construction companies hard and federal subsidies readily available through stimulus money, the district has been able to find good deals, said Linda Jones, chief financial officer.

"We've issued more than one-third of our bonds because interest rates and construction bids have been so good," she said.

Board members on Monday approved the sale of $32 million in Qualified School Construction bonds, which the federal government subsidizes by providing tax credit to the bond buyer, rather than the district paying the buyer interest.

To make up a gap in the amount of tax credit the federal government will pay and the actual interest rate on the bonds, Jones said the district will pay 1.35 percent on the $32 million.

That interest rate is lower than the roughly 4 percent the district will pay on $188 million in bonds it issued this spring. Jones said the federal subsidy on the latest bond is expected to save the district about $10 million.

The $32 million will be spent entirely on the new northeast high school because of federal wage laws the district must follow with the subsidized bonds. A larger construction firm will most likely take on the contract for the high school, and a larger construction firm is more likely to be versed in the federal wage laws, Jones said.

Board members also approved, with some reservation, a plan that would combine the new south elementary school in a new building that it would share with Lewis Open Magnet Elementary School.

The original bond plan voters approved in November 2008 included a renovation of the Lewis building and a new elementary at a separate site.

But district officials said as they struggled to find land in the right area to alleviate crowding of other schools, they came back to the 9-acre Lewis location. Administrators said the plan would save energy and staff expenses while still costing about $11.25 million — the price of the two original projects combined.

Board member Lanora Nolan, whose children attended Lewis, said she was concerned about keeping the 200-student magnet program separate from the new neighborhood school.

"We work so hard to embrace idea of connecting to a school," she said.

"When Isely (Traditional Magnet Elementary School) moved into Mueller, because there were more Mueller kids, they eventually homogenized and moved away. It'd break my heart if that happened" to Lewis.

The schools will have separate names and building numbers, district leaders said.

Lewis staff and parents told administrators they would rather be part of a new building than have the new school attached to the current Lewis building.

The board also approved its second contract to start construction on classroom additions.

Sauerwein Construction beat out nine other bidders for a $871,500 contract to build the addition to Clark Elementary.

The addition is expected to be finished by June 2010, and the new south elementary school building is set to open in fall 2012.