Topics ranging from the shortcomings of the current building to the method of financing a proposed new Junction
City High School were outlined during a town hall meeting Saturday morning at the Warren Settles Auditorium.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Corbin Witt informed the audience of about 65 people in the auditorium and the radio audience listening to the 1420 KJCK AM broadcast that USD 475 has $41.5 million in federal heavily impacted aid in the bank for the project which has a cost estimate not to exceed $105 million. The remainder of the funding would come from the State of Kansas if voters approve a bond issue on November 7.
Witt said the State has agreed to fund 47% of the cost. “They will continue to do that and pay our bond and interest through the life of this bond. There is no worry about the State defaulting on that, they have never defaulted on one, they don’t plan to default on one and I’ve been basically assured that that will not happen.” District officials have repeatedly made it clear that the project would not include any increase in the local property tax levy in USD 475.
The current high school facility needs constant repair and maintenance. JCHS Principal Melissa Sharp discussed infrastructure, where there have been 97 work orders during the first six weeks of school for infrastructure issues “significant to the roof, the HVAC system…we have three of those, three different HVAC systems, and the plumbing.”
Sharp noted the rain Friday night flooded the girls locker room. “It brought water into the commons area. We put sand bags up in the commons area to prepare for the rain that was coming. Anytime something like that happens a work order is prepared for our custodial crew to fix it or maintain it.” The principal also pointed out there is some technology in the building that is older than some of the students who attend the senior high.
Sharp reported through the school improvement initiative nationally high schools were asked to train students for the post-secondary job market. That brought the academy structure to JCHS. “So we have ( career ) pathways that train the future lawyers, police officers, nurses, EMT’s, robotics and engineers. So we have starting implementing pathways geared toward their career interests.” She added that will narrow down in the future to personalized learning or training. All children do not learn the same yet they’re being asked to go into the classroom together and learn at the same pace and deadlines. Sharp explained educators will be asked “in the next 10, 20, 30 years to plan personalized learning plans for students when they’re in high school based on their post-secondary needs.”
The large high school population resulted in student population being spread between the career academy facility and the Freshman Success Academy. The principal said their staff and mission is about having accessible programs for students in grades 9-12. “We would like to have freshmen here with us in the smaller learning community that they are. That’s caused issues with certification of teachers, students traveling between campus, teachers traveling between campus and access to programs for younger students.”
The Chief Operations Officer for USD 475, David Wild, reported that if the bond issue is passed by voters the next step would be a community design phase for a new high school, this project would not encumber all of the district’s funding, and the project would stay within the $105 million cap. Wild explained that the project will not degrade the current operational cash flow for the district.
There were questions and comments from the public. Michael Gray suggested using available Land Bank lots where infrastructure is in place, which could save money. Witt replied that there were discussions with Land Bank officials. “One of the concerns is the amount of property that we need. We would have to dislocate some people that have already purchased property in the Land Bank so that would not work. ” The district would, however be able to take advantage and have access to existing sewer and water lines type of infrastructure.
There were questions from others in the audience about the location of the proposed new school, with Witt making it clear the new school would be on the west side of the city. He explained that there are several places the school board is looking at and feels comfortable about, and that there have been conversations but no negotiations with property owners west of town.