Education

Maize schools tout need for, cite cost of building projects

Maize’s proposed bond issue would include a $19 million addition and renovation of Maize Middle School. (May 13, 2015)
Maize’s proposed bond issue would include a $19 million addition and renovation of Maize Middle School. (May 13, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Supporters of proposed bond issues that would finance $83.5 million in projects for Maize schools say the additions and improvements are a long time coming.

But now is the time, they said.

“We’ve been working on this and putting it together since 2011,” said Cyndi Chapman, chairwoman of Keep Improving District Schools, a pro-bond group.

“I’ve heard people say they’re trying to slam this down our throats, but that’s just not right,” Chapman said. “These things have been in the works for years, and we need to get them done.”

Beginning this week, Maize voters will receive ballots in the mail asking them to approve two bond issues. The ballots are due to the Sedgwick County Election Office by June 9.

The first ballot question, for $70.7 million, would finance an expansion of Maize Middle School, a new career and technical education center, a new transportation facility, an early childhood center, storm shelters at Maize High School, roof repairs and nearly $14 million in athletic upgrades.

The second question will ask voters whether the district should build a $12.8 million swimming pool and natatorium complex, intended to be used by the school district and the community.

Maize school board members split off the pool project because they feared opposition to it could endanger the rest of the bond. If approved, the bond issues would be the largest in the district’s history.

“There are no luxury items in it,” said Chapman, a Maize mother of three who is working on her third bond campaign for the district. She also served on the facilities task force that helped develop the list of proposed bond projects.

“This is all about safety for the kids and curriculum-based things that we do,” she said.

Simmering frustration

Bond issues tend to garner support in Maize, a district of about 7,200 students that includes portions of west Wichita. Since 1977, voters have approved six bond issues worth about $120 million.

This time, though, advocates are battling a simmering frustration among some residents who think leaders mishandled the issue of student placement, opting to stick with a preference-card system rather than establish attendance boundaries or a feeder-pattern system.

Unease over state budget deficits and education funding also has raised concerns, as have athletics upgrades and other projects some residents call unnecessary.

“I feel the school board is just like Congress, with baggage added to what is really needed so they can get the vote for other items,” Tawnnie Butler wrote in a recent letter to The Eagle.

However, there doesn’t seem to be any organized opposition to the Maize bond proposal. A Facebook group that grew out of the placement controversy has been critical of the bond and at one time heralded a “No Boundaries, No Bond” campaign, but page administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

Chapman, the bond proponent, said some of the bond projects, including a $19 million expansion and renovation of Maize Middle School, may help ease the placement issue.

“If you build a bigger middle school to feed into the bigger high school, that could help down the road,” she said.

Impact on taxes

Together, the proposed bond issues would increase the district’s mill levy by about 1 mill – about $23 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

Maize superintendent Doug Powers said it’s a small price to pay for the list of expansions and upgrades, which includes:

▪ Renovating and expanding Maize Middle School by about 40,000 square feet, increasing its capacity from 750 to 900 students

▪ A $9 million career and professional center at Maize High, which would serve all district students

▪ A new Early Childhood Center designed to accommodate 300 pre-schoolers and the district’s Parents as Teachers programs, estimated at $6.7 million

▪ A new transportation facility for the district’s 110 buses and vans, with lifts and other equipment, estimated at $4.2 million

▪ Additions and improvements to Maize South High, including an expanded cafeteria, counseling, science, special education, fine arts storage and gym lobby

▪ Roof replacements, technology upgrades and infrastructure improvements at various buildings

▪ A Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelter at Maize High, which would cost about $1.9 million

“The price is right. It’s very affordable for that level of improvements,” Powers said.

State law requires the state to pay 38 percent of the principal and interest of the Maize bond issues, totaling nearly $42 million. Some state lawmakers have hinted at reducing the level of state aid in coming years, which makes it more critical that Maize voters pass the bonds now, Powers said.

In addition, he said, bond interest rates are at historic lows, hovering between 2 and 2.5 percent. The district plans to finance its bonds over 14 years instead of the traditional 20, saving another $9.4 million in interest.

“Everything just kind of fell into place when you start talking about finance,” Powers said.

Middle school improvements

Maize Middle School principal Brian Thompson said proposed upgrades to the school would be most noticeable at lunchtime.

Currently, the school’s commons area serves as its cafeteria and auditorium, and it features a jumble of tables that are difficult to move in and out for special events. If the bond is approved, the school would get a new cafeteria/auditorium, stage and eighth-grade classrooms, and the commons space would be redesigned to be music and special-ed classroom space.

“I think it would be a great thing for Maize Middle. We need more space,” Thompson said.

The school is nearly at capacity. According to RSP & Associates, a consulting group that recently studied Maize enrollment trends, middle school enrollment is projected to increase 7 percent – an additional 113 students – by the 2019-20 school year.

District leaders considered building a third middle school but ruled that out, saying the district could handle growth by expanding Maize Middle School for about half the price of a new school and lower operating costs.

“I think it would do the trick,” Thompson said of the expansion. Proposed improvements include updating science labs that are original to the building, built in 1982, and renovating the sixth-grade classroom pod.

Natatorium still uncertain

Maize board members went back and forth on a proposed natatorium complex before finally deciding to pose it to voters as a separate ballot question.

After briefly tabling the proposal last year, citing nearby Goddard’s plans for an Olympic-quality aquatic center and hotel complex, Maize board members said they would consider a district natatorium if they could figure out a way to pay operating costs, estimated at about $250,000 a year.

The proposal calls for a nine-lane, 50-meter-by-25-yard pool with elevated seating for 750, lobby and concessions space and locker rooms. It would allow Maize high school swim teams to host practices and meets and for teachers to incorporate swimming into the district’s physical education curriculum.

The complex, modeled after the Capitol Federal Natatorium in Topeka, also could be leased out for large-scale school and club swim meets, community events or open swim for community members, officials said.

Currently, Maize High and Maize South High swim teams practice together at the Northwest YMCA as part of a district partnership with the Y.

Powers, the superintendent, said voter approval of the natatorium ballot question would give the district authority to build the pool complex but would not compel it to.

If approved, “we’d begin some preliminary planning on the facility, but the big work that will be done would be to develop a partnership and an operational cost plan,” he said, possibly with the Maize Recreation Commission, the YMCA or other groups.

“We haven’t gone there yet because it’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” Powers said. “It’s hard for any outside agency to say, ‘Yeah, we’d like to partner with you’ until you have the deal to put before them.”

If the district can’t establish a partnership or come up with a way to pay ongoing operational costs without drawing from its general fund, leaders could opt not to sell the bonds, Powers said.

“If, through the process of putting that all together … we can’t come up with a solid plan as a district, then, even though we had the authority to build it, I could see the board saying, ‘Thank you, but no. Not at this time,’ ” he said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

Still time to register

Mail-in ballots for the Maize bond election are expected to be delivered to registered voters by mail on Thursday. Ballots must be returned to the Sedgwick County Election Office by noon on June 9.

Voters must be registered to vote by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Those who register now must apply for a ballot. To do that, call the election office, 316-660-7100. For more information, call the election office or visit www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections.

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