Archive for Thursday, August 30, 2007

Question 2 proposals outside of classroom

August 30, 2007

The second question on the De Soto School District's bond referendum doesn't address the district's most immediate needs as does Question I, but the issues it addresses could bring significant changes for students if passed.

Voters will decide by a mail-in ballot whether to support the $19.5 million in projects on Question II, which includes $18 million for two new theaters at De Soto and Mill Valley high schools and $1.5 million for artificial

turf at the schools' fields. Question II projects only will pass if Question I passes.


The larger 1,000 occupancy theaters proposed for each high school are a long time coming, said Bob Velazquez, director of vocal music and drama at Mill Valley.

"It should have been put in when they opened Mill Valley," he said.

Instead, Mill Valley opened in 2000 with a 350-occupancy theater similar to the one already in place at De Soto High.

The stage at Mill Valley is 30 feet wide and 25 feet long, which Velazquez said limits what kind of performances can be done.

"A lot of the times we have to do things on levels so that all the kids can be seen," he said.

Between 60 and 80 students participate in the musical productions at Mill Valley, and although the school has grown since it opened in 2000, the amount of students who can participate in the musical productions hasn't because of the limited space, Velazquez said.

"After a while you get to a point where you can only fit so many kids on stage," he said. "With a bigger stage, I think I could really be seeing more, and get 80, 90, even 100, kids involved."

The school also has been limited on the shows it can produce, and Velazquez already knows what the first musical would be if a new theater is built.

"Our first show will be 'Beauty and the Beast,'" he said. "That is one show I cannot do with our stage because of the physical plant of the costume, especially with the larger dish costumes and everything."

There are pros and cons to the size of the present theaters, district facilities director Denis Johnson said.

"With a smaller theater you have a little more intimacy," he said. "When the kids are doing one of their plays, they may do three or four nights and there is an advantage to that because they get to perform more than one time. For having large groups in the school, the large theater would give them a better venue to hold that in."

Velazquez said although the students enjoyed doing the shows multiple times, there was a point where it interferes with their ability to do school work and other activities.

"As you are going through it and as we see after having to run, so many times now the energy level by Saturday night is low," he said. "Yes, they want to do it again and again, but they are not on Broadway yet. They are still kids. Some of them have jobs and lots of homework to do."

Musicals are performed four nights in order to allow parents, students and district patrons to watch the results. However, Velazquez said three shows would be ideal for the student's energy levels.

Although the students would produce fewer shows in the larger theater, they would have the ability to perform in front of twice the number of audience members. Velazquez said even with the increased amount of seating the productions could sell out.

If the larger theater is built, the smaller theater will remain. Velazquez agreed with Johnson that the smaller theater is more intimate, but said that is more ideal for plays, not musicals.

"The larger settings with a musical, you are dealing with big," he said. "We don't even have a pit to put an orchestra in. You kind of lose some of the feeling of the musical. You want to give the feeling of vast and big and glorious in musicals."

Johnson said one thing that probably would make the biggest difference in the minds of voters was the cost.

"It is an expensive addition to the school, but it also gives more community use with it as well," he said. "Utility-wise, it is a large space to heat and cool. Construction-wise, it is a very expensive place to construct because of the acoustical nature of the auditorium, and you have to have nice seating."

Artificial turf

The smaller project on Question II of the bond referendum has been promoted by some as a way to save money on field maintenance, but Johnson said that may not be the case.

"That is pretty controversial whether that is correct or not," he said. "Vendors will tell you it saves money, but they are selling the product."

The artificial turf would cost the district $1.5 million initially. In eight years, the turf has to be replaced, which would cost the district more than half of what it initially cost to install the turf, Johnson said. Although artificial turf does save money on maintenance costs, it is the cost of replacing the fields that makes the savings a wash, Johnson said.

Maintenance for grass fields includes applying fertilizer, pesticides, striping the field, resodding and watering. Artificial turf fields have to be swept, vacuumed and watered to help settle the dust.

One of the benefits of a turf field is its durability, Johnson said.

"You can have more play on it in a season and not have the damage to it that you do a turf field," he said. "If you have a tremendous downpour before the first game of the season, they can pretty much trash the turf for the season."

Use of the fields is restricted because of the need to maintain the fields for games. Practice fields are used instead, Johnson said.

Artificial turf fields are becoming more popular witth school districts and have been installed at Bonner Springs, Shawnee Mission North, Blue Valley and Baldwin.

Bonner Springs High School's field had artificial turf installed last year for about $650,000.

Bonner Springs-Edwardsville USD 204 Superintendent Bob Van Maren said so far the turf has been beneficial.

"We use it for all kinds of games and practices," he said. "The community uses it as well. It's also taken some pressure off of our other practice fields."

Last school year, the district saved from $25,000 to $30,000 in maintenance costs with the artificial turf field, Van Maren said.

The artificial turf also is able to provide use for other teams, community groups, physical education classes and outside organizations.

"Pretty much when we are done with a game or high school classes, somebody else is going to be on it until dark," Van Maren said.

When De Soto residents request to use the fields at De Soto High School, they are often turned down," said Steve Deghand, De Soto High athletic director.

"Youth groups or youth sports -- we can't allow them on the field because of the natural turf," he said.

Groups with no community members or district students are charged for use of the field based on the facilities they use and attendance at events, Van Maren said. One such group is the Kansas Chaos, a semi-professional football team. Last year, the school collected from $8,000 to $10,000 from outside groups who want to use the field.

Although making artificial turf fields available to groups for a fee has been discussed in the De Soto district, the school board has not yet decided if it will go that route, Johnson said.

Van Maren said he expected to pay about half of the initial cost replace the field, but he said he believed it will last longer than eight years.

"The warranty on our field is eight years," he said. "But our research indicates a lot of fields have lasted 10 to 12 years.

With a 10- to 12-year lifespan, the field at Bonner Springs High School would pay for itself, Van Maren said. The district plans to build a reserve fund about three years before the field needs replaced in order to pay for the new turf, he said.

Because of the cost savings and the service the artificial turf provided, Van Maren said he was more than satisfied with the artificial turf.

"It's definitely been worth it for us just in terms of ease of use," he said.

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