Archive for Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Land donation spurs school bond changes

August 1, 2007

The Basehor-Linwood school board still plans to present a $39.9 million bond issue to voters in a special election in October.

But, the plan has changed slightly.

When Basehor residents and landowners Jerry and Ruth Ann Mussett started working with Affinity Development Inc., and the city of Basehor in an effort to revitalize downtown Basehor, they knew they wanted to set aside a piece of the land to donate to the school district for a school.

"The school is ready and this is a good location, so that is kind of the reason for it," Jerry Mussett said about donating the land.

The Mussetts' ties to the district also go back several generations. When Jerry Mussett's father was in Basehor schools in the early 1930s, his grandfather was on the school board. During this time, Ruth Ann Mussett's father, James S. Milligan, also served as the principal of Basehor High School. Currently, the couple's seven grandchildren are the fourth generation of Mussetts to attend Basehor schools.

"Our roots run kind of deep here and we're just excited about putting a school there," Jerry Mussett said.

Superintendent Bob Albers said it was in the district's best interest financially to accept the Mussetts and Affinity's 12-acre donation.

If the bond issue is approved, a new 400-student-capacity elementary school will be built on 12 acres southeast of 155th and Hickory streets.

However, with the site of the proposed new school being so close to Basehor Elementary School, the school board had to come up with a different way to better utilize the new building. The new school will be a part of BES and house third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from the northern part of the district, while kindergarten through second-grade students will attend school at the current BES building.

"The discussion and emphasis that went into this was with the buildings so close together, if you make both of them K through five, you'd have to draw new boundary lines, and we didn't want to do that," Albers said.

While both schools will be run as one unit, Albers said, the split will also allow more students to be able to pass through the new school and activities will be more age-appropriate in each building.

The additional school will allow the district to eliminate the portable classrooms currently used for music classes at BES and move those classes into regular classrooms. The new building will also free up classroom space for all-day kindergarten classes, which are on the horizon Albers said.

The new grade level configuration with the new school raised some questions at the July 25 facilities planning committee meeting, but after a discussion, the committee was agreeable to the plan, Albers said.

"I think that there were questions initially, but they were addressed with support behind them," said Wynne Coleman, a member of the committee who has children in the district. "The pro of it is that, administration-wise, it will be consistent."

Shannon Powell, another member of the committee with children in the district, agreed.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "We do need to utilize what we have for the district. Having the land donated will help us save money."

The estimated cost of the elementary school is $11.45 million.

Other components

The rest of the bond issue calls for a centrally located 700-student-capacity sixth- through eighth-grade middle school at an estimated cost of $24.8 million, six additional classrooms and renovations to Glenwood Ridge Elementary School with an estimated cost of $2.5 million, an estimated $750,000 for renovations at Linwood Elementary School and a new soccer field near Basehor-Linwood High School t an estimated $400,000.

Albers said the district plans to construct the proposed middle school on land directly across 158th Street from GRES. The cost includes construction, land, site development and athletic fields.

"We're in the process of purchasing that land," Albers said. "The contract has been drawn up and the verbal agreement is there."

Two of the new classrooms at GRES will most likely be designated as kindergarten classrooms for the possibility of all-day kindergarten in the near future, while one of the current kindergarten classrooms will be converted into an art room. Remaining additional space added will serve as two third-grade classrooms, a second-grade classroom, a music room, restrooms and storage, Albers said. The office and front entry will be renovated for improved security.

"The one thing I think people should know is Glenwood Ridge was built with the ability to expand when needed," Coleman said. "This was a long-term plan when the bond was passed in '97, so it's just fulfilling something we talked about back then."

LES will also undergo small renovations to increase security by moving the main office from the middle of the building closer to front entrance. Moving seventh- and eighth-graders to another building will allow elementary students to spread out and no longer share a library, cafeteria, gymnasium and computer lab with the middle school students. Items not usually found in an elementary school that will be left over from the older students, such as lockers, may be moved to the new middle school.

"That will be a decision that will have to be made," Albers said. "A lot of equipment in the current middle school will be moved to the new one."

The exact location of the soccer field is unknown, but will most likely be northwest of the high school football field and just west of practice baseball fields on land already owned by the district, Albers said. Plans include small bleachers, grading, sod and lighting for one field.

Palatable for voters

Voters in the district have turned down seven bond issue proposals since 1990 and the last bond to pass was 10 years ago in 1997, but Coleman and Powell said they are hopeful voters will favor this one because of the work and opinions from all parts of the district that have gone into it.

"I think the biggest concern is deciding what is best for the students and coming up with a plan that the entire community will support," Coleman said. "I believe what the committee has come up with and what the board has decided to put up as a bond proposal is ideal for the community."

"We've worked really hard to make it the best that we can and what we think is right for the kids and economical for everyone as taxpayers," Powell said.

Both Coleman and Powell said their reasons for wanting the bond issue to pass stem from overcrowding concerns. They said they are worried that learning is suffering because of what is referred to as "art on a cart" or when specialty classes such as art and music do not have a classroom because of lack of space.

"I live in a new subdivision, and the growth just within our subdivision supports that this community is growing and something needs to be done," Coleman said.

Building support

According to Albers, the school board is looking at adding several more people to the facilities planning committee to form an advisory committee that will help spread the word about the bond issue through public meetings. The same method that was used to form the planning committee will be used to make sure all constituents in the district are represented. The board is currently mulling over a roster of 70 to 80 names, Albers said.

These meetings, expected to begin in mid-August, will be designed to go over specifics of the bond plan, answer questions and allow additional input. They will be held throughout the district and a schedule will be released at a later date.

Powell said the facilities planning committee will be working on forming different bond campaign committees this week to begin achieving the goal of obtaining "yes" votes in the October election.

One of the biggest initial pushes will be to get district patrons registered to vote, which Powell said will be crucial for a larger voter turnout and a greater chance of a passed bond. Another factor they hope will help them, she said, is the voting process -- a mail-in ballot.

"Families are so busy and on the go now, but it's so easy," she said. "If they're registered, all they have to do is vote and put it in the mail; very simple."

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