Patrons of Hays USD 489 had the opportunity to see and hear for themselves about problems in the schools that district officials say would be alleviated by a $78.5 million bond voters will decide in November.
The district conducted a “talking tour” Tuesday night of Lincoln Elementary School, with teachers, staff, administrators, members of the community Vision Team and school board members as well as representatives of the district’s architectural firm, the DLR Group, and construction manager at-risk Nabholz Construction.
Faculty members and staff led several groups in a tour of the building that included the cafeteria and the art and music room at Lincoln.
Through a little more than two hours, patrons heard about problems stemming from the age and outdated design of the school, but also praise for the work faculty and staff are able to do with their limitations. They also had a chance to ask questions.
Several who attended the session said they were satisfied with the information that was presented.
“They weren’t just talking to be heard. They gave the answers to the questions they were asked. Sometimes you don’t get that,” Agnes Meier said.
Tim and Jessica Speno said they have four children who attend Holy Family Elementary and Thomas More Prep-Marian High, the private Catholic schools in Hays, but they will vote in favor of the bond.
“We don’t have kids that go to USD 489, but we feel that a strong school system is imperative and so important for this community,” Tim Speno said.
He said the lack of resources and condition of the facilities at Lincoln was somewhat surprising.
“The level of improvement that was needed was much more than I originally thought before coming here,” he said.
In the cafeteria, for example, tour-goers learned from Nutrition Services Director Jolene Hoover that plumbing is an issue.
“Being in the basement, all of our water usage and garbage goes through a line underneath the floor here to the sump pump,” she said, indicating its location in a closet. “It’s fed with enzymes at night to help with the odor, but it does not always work. It just does not smell the best if we have to open up the door.”
Patrons could smell a slight garbage-like odor in the cafeteria.
Hoover and reading teacher Kay Shippy also noted students who have to use crutches or a wheelchair cannot eat in the cafeteria because it is accessible only by stairs.
Shippy spoke about problems of some teachers having to share classrooms, particularly in special education. She showed tour-goers a classroom with a divider down the middle, with special education on one side and speech on the other. The speech teacher works with small groups, while the special education teacher can have up to 15 students at a time.
In the art and music room, art teacher Rita Legleiter spoke about the difficulties of sharing that space. On Monday mornings, orchestra is taught in the classroom, finishing up at 7:55 a.m. Legleiter teaches an art class at 8:05 a.m.
“So setting up, getting ready for them, getting all the tables moved, sometimes the kids are coming in and helping me,” she said.
USD 489 Superintendent John Thissen and district principals echoed similar problems at the district’s other schools as well as the need for tornado shelters at each school and improved security over entrances.
Meier said she was most concerned about the placement of the elementary schools and the ability of all parents to be able to transport their kids to school.
Under the proposal, two new elementary schools would be built to replace O’Loughlin, Wilson and Lincoln. One of the new schools would replace Wilson, but the second school’s location still is unknown.
The reason for that is because the district doesn’t want to make moves to buy property before knowing if the bond will be approved and where the public would prefer it be located, Thissen said.
“I guarantee you that on Nov. 8, if it would pass, it’ll be one of the very first things that’s worked on will be where that new elementary would be,” he said.
“Within that $78.5 million, there ends up being money to buy land for the new elementary,” Thissen said. “We have land by the high school. There's 40 acres there, so it can go there, but I'm not convinced that's where the public wants it.”
If it was built at the high school, the money for buying land could be used for other projects within the plan.
Meier said she was satisfied with what information district officials were able to give on possible locations for that school.
“I’ll probably vote yes, but I’ll keep my ears open,” she said.