A plan, with a price tag, was presented to the Board of Education May 8, the result of months of strategic planning and six weeks of a community group working to create the plan.
“This was hard,” said Elizabeth Gunn, a teacher in the district who served on the community team. “It was great at times and difficult at times. It was great to see all the data come together and for us to come to a consensus.”
That group started with about 13 different options to look at, spending six meetings for more than a hour and up to three hours long to create the proposal presented to the board.
“We knew that we had one shot to address the needs across the spectrum,” said Mallory Morton, a parent of three children who served on the community group. “We knew we could not come back in five years and try this again.”
The plan calls for renovations to Newton High School and the Walton Rural Life Center. Also a part of the plan is improvements to storm shelters at the four elementary schools in the Newton city limits.
Renovations for Walton are estimated at $11.7 million. The plan calls for expanding Walton as a two section (two classrooms per grade) for grades kindergarten through fifth grade, adding classrooms and a new gymnasium/storm shelter. Other elementary schools would use existing classroom spaces and have fifth grade moved back to those schools.
“We looked at capacity in our buildings, what it looks like now and what it would happen with each option,” Gunn said.
At the high school, the group is recommending a heavy renovation of the core of the high school, which was constructed in 1973. All of the systems — mechanical and piping — will be renovated and replaced in the central part of the building. Area one will be reconfigured and upgrades made to the performing arts area. The current Ravenscroft Gymnasium and pool area would receive renovation as well.
“It is addressing the older portion of the building,” said Tim Dudte, a community team member.
Also getting a mechanical refresh will be the kitchen and locker rooms.
“Those are ticking time bombs,” Dudte said.
The group also is advocating for the construction of a new gymnasium that would double as a storm shelter. The current Willis Gymnasium would be renovated as a multi-purpose room. Also on tap is a new science wing.
The plan calls for upgrades to storm shelters throughout the district, new furniture for elementary school classrooms, a multi-purpose room at South Breeze, Santa Fe and Chisholm would each become a sixth through eighth grade school.
The price tag of the bond issue came in at just over $59 millon.
The board questioned what role a demographers report, which shows projected population growth south of U.S. 50, played in the decisions of the community visioning team. That report was discussed, however, according to team member Mallory Morton, the group believed moving elementary boundary lines would allow the district to deal with that growth.
The board also asked about bussing students to Walton — any student living more than 2.5 miles from their attendance center would need to be bussed to the school. Board members also had questions about a survey of voters performed by phone to gauge support for renovating Walton versus moving the building to a new location south of U.S. 50.
“I think the report offered is fantastic, and the work (the team) did was fantastic,” said Dick Koontz, president of the board.
Koontz called for a work session to discuss the proposal prior to possibly voting on the issue at the next board meeting June 12.
In other business the board:
• Tabled a review and renewal of the Walton Rural Life Charter Grant. The issue will be brought back to the board in June.
• Recognized Beth Burns, art teacher at Slate Creek, who was named a PBS Digital Innovator.
• Recognized the workforce development center; John Hosford and Hosford Insurance; Chris Tuohey of Kemper Sports/Sand Creek Station; Tina Payne of Harvey County United Way; and Carter’s Clothing Store as “Friends of Education.”
• Accepted donations of $1,000 from Millennium Machine, $2,221.26 from Allmetal Recycling and $1,000 from Park Aerospace Technologies to the Newton High School Robotics team for expenses traveling to the National Robotics competition in St. Louis later in April.
• Accepted a donation of materials valued at $6,350 from Full Vision, Inc. to Newton High School to be used by students in the welding technology program.
• Accept a donation of $2,000 from the Chisholm PTO to Chisholm Middle School to help with costs of the 7-8 grade field trip.
• Approved changes to handbooks for classified employees and substitute teachers.
• Received a report on post secondary progress.
• Received a report on training by staff on suicide prevention under the Jason Flatt Act.
• Reviewed possible instructional changes in grades 5 through 12.
• Reviewed information on individual plan of study information.
• Reviewed Kansas High School Activities Association classification of high schools.
• Met in executive session for more than an hour to discuss personnel. According to letters provided by parents to The Newton Kansan, the board was meeting with students who were advocating on behalf of a teacher at Chisholm Middle School and Santa Fe 5/6 Center whose contract is not being renewed for next year. Eighteen students from the two schools wrote letters on behalf of the teacher. Following the executive session, the board approved a personnel report under the consent agenda, which according to that document included accepting the resignation of Sebastian Dowd, the teacher students had advocated for.