Norton schools propose bond issue
By JUDY SHERARD
NORTON -- USD 211 patrons will go to the polls April 1 to decide a $14,825,000 school bond issue.
If the bond is approved, the district will renovate 22,600 square feet of current facilities and add 41,100 square feet of new space.
The school district began the process evaluating its facilities in 2007, superintendent Greg Mann said.
A facilities study committee formed in 2008, but the idea was shelved until 2011 because of the economic recession, he said.
Planning began in 2011 with phone and Internet surveys by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs in Hays.
The surveys showed "without knowing the cost, the majority (of respondents) indicated there was pretty good support," Mann said.
A 35-member community steering group -- a cross-section of the community including young families and longtime residents -- was named in 2012, he said.
April Karnopp was a member of the planning group. Karnopp has three children, two of whom still are students in the district, and now also is a member of the board of education.
As a parent and member of the school board, she knew there were issues that needed to be addressed.
Getting community input means it isn't just the superintendent and seven board members identifying the needs, she said.
The steering group presented their recommendation to the board in November to pursue a bond election, and the board voted on the matter in December.
The last bond issue was in 1976, and the newest construction in the district is a gym built in 1977.
Though the buildings are older, Mann said they have been well maintained.
"We've taken care of our stuff really well," she said.
Mann said it's cost-effective to renovate the existing buildings. It would cost $34 or $35 million to duplicate the current facilities, and there still wouldn't be enough space.
The proposed plan includes 17,000 square feet of new space at Eisenhower Elementary School, which was built in 1957 with additions in 1966 and 1990. Some of the new space would be for kindergarten and early childhood classes.
There are three all-day kindergarten classes, but only one classroom was built for kindergarten students. The district would like to add a 3- and 4-year-old at-risk program.
"There are younger kids who aren't served because the space isn't there," Karnopp said.
Another Eisenhower addition would be a multi-purpose area and storm shelter. Approximately 8,600 square feet at the school would be renovated.
A total of 24,100 square feet would be added to the junior/senior high school, built in 1937 with additions in 1966 and 1975. Stull gym was added in 1977 and the technology building in 1995.
The proposed new space would add music facilities that also would serve as a storm safe room, locker rooms and expand the lobby area at Stull Gym. The gym seats 2,000, but the lobby accommodates only approximately 100 people, Mann said.
Both buildings would be renovated to provided more secure entrances and improved administrative spaces.
The district offices are in the former Washington Grade School, now owned by the city of Norton. If the bond passes, the offices might be moved to the district's east campus.
"We prefer to stay here," Mann said.
The district pays no rent, utilities or maintenance costs, but Mann isn't sure if those terms will continue when the lease is up for renewal in 2015. If the district can get the same deal, the offices won't move, and the bond money earmarked for the move will be used to buy new desks.
"Enrollment (approximately 700 full-time equivalent students) is still pretty good," Mann said.
The need isn't so much because of the number of students, but expanding programs.
The USD 211 mill levy for 2012-13 was 39.378. If the bond passes, the mill levy will increase 14.99 mills for a total of 54.368.
On a $100,000 house, it will add $172.39 to the tax bill each year.
The board is requesting a financial commitment from the community and "recognizes this is an investment," Karnopp said. "I know a lot of people want to see Norton thrive and maintain its economic place."
There will be a community meeting to provide information about the proposed bond issue at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 in the East Campus Auditorium. There also will be tours of the facilities at 2 and 6 p.m.