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USD 388 asks voters for $10M bond

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- Ellis USD 388 patrons will go to the polls June 4 to vote on a school bond issue.

Plans still are being finalized, but the USD 388 Board of Education voted in December to move ahead with the special election, said Superintendent Bob Young.

If voters approve the $10 million bond, the money will pay off HVAC improvements made four years ago, renovations and new construction.

Discussion of district needs started more than a year ago, Young said.

The board has contracted with ACI-Boland, a Kansas City planning and architectural firm.

"They charge no money up front," he said. "If the bond does not pass, we owe them nothing."

The first step was assembling a group of approximately 30 community members.

"We wanted the community to be involved as much as we could," said Mark Polifka, board of education president and a member of the committee.

"We looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the community as a whole, strengths and weaknesses of our school district as a whole," Young said.

After prioritizing needs, several at the top of the list involved the sports facilities on the west side of town -- the football field, secondary gym, track and weight room.

"Those are our oldest facilities and creating the biggest drain on the finances of the district," Young said.

Also at the top of the list is paying off the $1.5 million HVAC improvements done four years ago.

"That's a huge financial burden on the district," Young said. "We pay $172,000 a year out of capital outlay, more than 50 percent of (that) revenue source. That's exhausting all of our revenue to address some of these other needs we have in the district."

Plans still are being tweaked, but the proposal includes a classroom addition to Ellis High School. The addition would allow the district to move the junior high there.

"We've started taking our junior high students to the high school for classes," Young said.

They are transported by bus for three or four hours a day, he said.

The addition is planned for the northeast corner of the school.

Polifka said it will be important to make a distinction between the junior high and high schools.

Moving the junior high would free up space for expanding K-6 classes at Washington Grade School.

"We've really got a problem with space at our grade school, which is a good thing," Young said. "Our student enrollment has gone up significantly in our K-8 building. We've had a 15 (percent) to 20 percent increase just in the last two or three years."

Ellis is "one of the few northwest Kansas communities that's growing," Polifka said. "We need to be pro-active."

Preliminary plans call for a secondary gym and weight and wrestling rooms to be built on the southeast corner of the high school. A new stadium and track would be built south of the school, replacing the one on the west side of town.

"The stadium is a big ticket item," Polifka said.

It was added to the list because of safety issues, he said.

All but one of the 30 committee members favored putting the full $10 million bond issue to the voters. The dissenting voter agreed with the bond need, but favored a lesser amount, Young said.

"It's been 20 years since any money went toward any bond payments," he said. "It's been 35 years since we did any construction in the school district."

Ellis High School opened in 1977. The building housing the secondary gym was built in approximately 1955, and the area where the wrestling and weight rooms are located was built in approximately 1915, according to Young.

The current total mill levy for the school district is approximately 50 mills and would increase approximately 18.25 mills if voters approve the $10 million bond.

"I believe some of that could be offset with a reduction of capital outlay and LOB mill because we've had to max those out trying to pay for facilities needs," Young said.

Polifka said it's important to continue the community involvement.

"We want everybody to know what's going on. It's their school. I hope people will come out and listen. It's an awesome opportunity to help the school and community."