Focus group IDs $120 million in USD 232 needs
Report to be basis for district’s possible 2006 bond referendum
In a major step toward a bond referendum, the De Soto USD 232 Facilities Focus Group identified $120 million of needs in a report shared this week with the Board of Education.
Board members anticipated many more discussions involving the three new Board members elected in April before a bond issue is crafted that could be placed before district voters as soon as May 2006.
The focus group met regularly from November to April, and facilities director Denis Johnson presented its findings and the future bond recommendation to the Board Monday night. The suggested bond schedule would include two new elementary schools -- one in De Soto and one in Shawnee -- and a new high school in Lenexa.
Among other items noted as underlying "philosophical beliefs," the group's report included the following appeal for urgency: "Delaying a needed bond issue is unproductive, as needs do not go away and building never gets cheaper."
Planned development within the school district would push existing schools to capacity, and fast, operations director Jack Deyoe said.
In particular, Monticello Trails Middle School, Starside Elementary School and Clear Creek Elementary School all are projected to fill up by 2007. Mize Elementary School is expected to reach capacity by 2009 and Mill Valley by 2010.
Growth on the district's Shawnee side had been the fastest but more recently slowed slightly, Deyoe said. De Soto growth appears to be remaining constant, Deyoe said, but the district's middle section, Lenexa, is expected to have the highest growth of the three cities.
Besides highlighting the need to work quickly, focus group members agreed to prioritize building neighborhood schools, maintaining district parity in education, technology and facilities and maintaining low-enrollment schools -- limiting enrollment to 550 for elementary, 750 for middle and 1,000 for high schools.
If patrons are to vote on a bond referendum in May, the Board of Education must adopt a resolution finalizing the ballot question three and a half months in advance, which could fall as early as January.
Monday's recommendation included $85.3 million for the following new facilities:
- a $6.9 million special service center needed by 2009. The center could be built on part of the land reserved for the district's next planned elementary school at 71st and Chouteau streets in Shawnee. The center would give some special programs like preschool, special education or Parents As Teachers a permanent location and relieve overcrowding at elementary schools that house the programs now.
- an $18.1 million elementary school needed by 2009. This school would be built on property the district owns at 58th Street and Belmont Drive in Shawnee, an area near 55th Street and Clare Road slated for development.
- a $19.2 million elementary school needed by 2011. This school would be built in western De Soto, an area expected to develop with the completion of the city's sewer.
- a $36.7 million high school needed by 2010. The 750-capacity high school would be built at 83rd Street and Mize Road in Lenexa, a site that will be shared with the planned Mize Middle School.
- a $4.4 million district warehouse and service center facility needed by 2010. The warehouse would provide things like extra freezer storage for the student nutrition department, overflow bus parking and possibly additional space for the technology department.
In addition to new facilities, the recommendation included:
- $6 million for land acquisition, inflation and legal fees.
- $7.1 million in improvements to existing facilities, including additions to the office, art and industrial design areas and weight room at De Soto High School, a special education addition at Starside and a band room expansion at Lexington Trails Middle School. A $2 million administrative center expansion also was recommended.
- $10 million in technology upgrades to existing facilities.
- $10 million for special projects. This money would be tagged as discretionary funds and reserved for joint projects with cities or Johnson County, like natatoriums or play fields and nature walks discussed as joint possibilities for the 83rd and Mize site.
After voting down a $91.2 million proposal in May 2002, voters approved the current $76 million bond issue in November of that year.
Two schools remain to be built with that bond money -- Mize Middle School and the elementary school at 71st and Chouteau streets. A third elementary school planned for the 2002 bond issue was eliminated as part of adjustments made when Mize Middle School's preliminary designs indicated the school would cost $6 million more than estimated.
The suggested future bond schedule drew concerns from Board members at its unveiling.
Jim Plummer and Sandy Thierer said they didn't think voters would accept a resolution including a $36.7 million high school before De Soto High School had been expanded to 1,000 capacity and filled. An addition completed last summer expanded Mill Valley to 1,000 capacity, and that school is expected to fill by the time a new high school is built.
"I think that would be a big pill to swallow," Plummer said. "People are going to see that $36 million there and say 'I know De Soto High School isn't at 1,000 yet.'"
Johnson said focus group meetings included much discussion on that topic.
However, he said, unbalanced growth was part of the reason a third high school would be needed. Without a high school in the middle of the district, Shawnee and Lenexa students would be forced to travel to De Soto for school once Mill Valley was full, at even farther distances than students already traveling from west Shawnee.
Don Clark said he was uncomfortable with relying on growth projections that would possibly lead the district into asking voters for money or building schools before they were necessary.
Even if schools don't fill up as quickly as projected and the district waits to cash out bonds until new facilities are needed, taxpayers count their money as spent the day they vote for a bond issue, Clark said.
Johnson reminded Board members that each new school would require about a year of planning and then an additional one to two years of construction.
Deyoe said projections were intensively researched but still required a lot of educated guesswork. He used a quarterback analogy to describe the district's need to stay ahead rather than behind on school building.
"You're leading your receiver," Deyoe said. "You're not waiting until he gets there then throwing."