As members of the Community Vision Team and the Our Schools, Our Future Committee, many of us have written letters about particular aspects of this proposal, but we wanted to give a few final thoughts on the proposed school bond before the people Hays vote on Tuesday to highlight the process and a few of the key features of this bond proposal.
Every project had to meet certain criteria for us to include it in this proposal. First, it needed to solve a pressing educational challenge facing the district. Second, the work done in the project needed to outlive the term of the bond. Finally, it needed to make sense financially — both in the short term and in the long term.
Elementary schools became our priority early in the process as they presented the biggest challenges. Each elementary school is currently overcrowded, and the heating/cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems in several schools are failing or reaching the end of their useful life. We looked at simply repairing the deferred maintenance items, but it was clear that we’d be spending millions on repairs that wouldn’t touch the real problems at these facilities.
Not only are classrooms small or insufficient, but spaces like the cafeterias at each school are woefully too small for the number of kids using the space each day. Ultimately, the cheapest solution was to replace rather than repair some of these facilities. We didn’t propose new elementary schools because we had the itch to build something new. We proposed new elementary schools because it was cheaper in the short term and smarter in the long term to replace rather than repair Lincoln and Washington, and replacing Wilson was the only way to ensure that the work done at that location would outlast the term of the bond.
Whether we decided to renovate or replace, Wilson needed to be expanded. However, judging by the building assessment, it was doubtful that the existing structure would be viable in 30 years, and we didn’t want to propose projects that were likely to need significant attention before the bond was paid off. Adding about $5 million to the total bond allowed us to replace Wilson and ensured that we wouldn’t have to return to projects at the same school for many years after it was paid off.
Not every project required massive renovation or a new facility, either. Given the need to expand elementary school space and the relatively good condition of O’Loughlin, we looked at expanding there, but the lot at O’Loughlin was much too small. However, for less than $3 million, the building can be updated and divided to house several smaller programs that currently lack viable space, making repurposing O’Loughlin an excellent, affordable solution for what could have been an expensive problem.
Hays High School presented us with a major challenge in that many of its systems were past their life expectancy and showing their age. By addressing classroom renovations at the same time as the infrastructure upgrades, we were able to save a lot of money as opposed to doing them as separate projects. With the expanded and updated classroom space, Hays High will be viable for the foreseeable future. All of this will be accomplished for less than a third of what a new high school would have cost and not much more than what we would have spent on only addressing the maintenance issues.
The most common hesitation that we’ve heard about this bond is that we chose to propose a single bond rather than several smaller bonds on a rolling basis. We explored various options for implementing a multiple-bond solution. However, accounting for both interest and increasing construction costs, it would end up costing in the range of $40 million to $50 million more to do the exact same work if we approached it this way. Ultimately, splitting up a project like this doesn’t make financial sense. Since we committed to producing a proposal that was fiscally responsible, we chose the path that would cost taxpayers the least — the $78.5 million proposal that is on the ballot.
As with any project of this scale, there is so much more we could write. We’ve spent the better part of a year working on this proposal, and each time we revisit a particular feature of the bond we’re more convinced that it is the right plan and will have a tremendously positive impact on the city of Hays. However, that decision is now up to the voters of Hays. Pass or fail, our team’s work with this bond proposal ends on Tuesday. It’s been a long, involved process to develop, propose and promote this bond, but we hope the community of Hays will see the benefit in it and support it.
Chris Dinkel, Jennifer Teget, Wendy Armbruster, Ervis Dinkel, Mike Morley, Brad Schumacher, Valerie Wente, Jacob Wood, Alaina Cunningham, Amy Wasinger, Mike Walker, Jackie Sakil and Greg Kerr,
members of the Community Vision Team and/or the Our Schools, Our Future Committee