by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Although voters won't step into the voting booths to encounter a Platte School District bond issue for at least a couple of years, district officials are laying the foundation for a future bond proposal for improvements.
While plans being discussed include a proposed new middle school along Hwy. 152 near North Platte Purchase on 80 acres that was gifted to the district, the construction of a second high school is not part of the future plan at this point. Instead, adding on to the existing high school is part of the plan being discussed.
Future improvements being discussed at this point include new building construction, including a new middle school, additions to the existing high school and other changes at various elementary schools.
The bond issue would be necessary to manage projected, future growth and to improve facilities district wide, school officials said.
Voters may be asked to decide the no-tax-increase bond issue in 2020 or in 2021, but a specially-called district task force is still working out which improvements to target and how much they will cost.
The time frame will be re-examined every year and adjusted if necessary, Dr. Mike Reik, R-3 superintendent, told The Landmark.
The task force will make a recommendation to the school board later, district officials said.
“We have not stopped growing since our district was founded,” said Laura Hulett, communications director for the Platte County R-3 School District. “We will continue to have to build facilities to meet our capacity needs,” she said during a telephone interview and added that officials favor a no-tax increase bond issue over a tax levy increase.
The district has a bonding capacity of more than $69 million, which is about 15 percent of the district's assessed valuation and offers a cap to the amount for which district officials can ask voters.
During a task force meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 31, members continued the work of examining various improvement options and bond packages. Several options are on the table, including spending the $69 million available or spending a lesser amount. But district officials stressed that all options are only preliminary.
The Long-Range Facility Plan Task Force, whose approximately 30 members include district staff and invited parents, patrons and community leaders, was established in 2016, Hulett said. The group will host two feedback sessions to introduce patrons to various bonding and improvement scenarios and seek feedback.
One is scheduled for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25 in the library at Pathfinder, 1951 N.W. 87th Terrace, Kansas City, and a second session will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 1 in the library at Platte County High School, 1501 Branch St., Platte City.
Options include construction of a new middle school on 80 acres of land that was recently donated to the district at Hwy. 152 and Platte Purchase, an early childhood center and a conversion of Siegrist Elementary from a kindergarten through fifth-grade school to one that includes pre-kindergarten classrooms.
Hulett said officials have set a goal to move the 86-student preschool group from current locations at Barry School and the District Administration Center to one location. District officials would prefer moving the program to a school that includes “access to playground and all the other school amenities that a school provides over an office,” she said.
A kitchen remodel and district-wide technology, safety and security upgrades also are goals of the bond issue. Other improvements include creating classroom and other spaces to support programs such as college and career readiness, technical education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
The group may suggest a bond package for school board consideration sometime this summer, “but is more interested in a thorough process that is fully vetted than meeting a timeline,” Hulett wrote in an email.
Reik, the superintendent, said in an emailed response: “It is important to understand that this is a high-level plan subject to change with annual review of relevant factors. Currently we are under capacity in all buildings which allows us the ability to take our time and identify our needs through responsible analysis. This process is intended to proactively plan for the future to ensure our students and community have outstanding facilities.”
Jay Harris, district director of operations, who facilitates tax force meetings, said during last week's meeting that officials are keeping an eye on student population growth to determine when another high school will be needed.
But in an emailed response Hulett said that the current high school enrollment of 1,200 is not high enough to necessitate construction of an additional high school. However, much of the district's population is concentrated within the district's northern area, including Compass and Siegrist elementary schools and Platte City Middle School. As high school enrollment increases, other options can be considered prior to building an additional high school, Hulett said via email.
“A non-traditional satellite high school could start as a smaller attendance center offering unique programs in a location closer to our southern families,” she wrote.
Officials have contracted with Hollis and Miller Architects, a Kansas City-based firm, to design proposed bond-financed school improvements and additions. The firm has handled previous improvements and construction, most recently the 2016 construction of Compass Elementary.
But the firm also has facilitated the high school conceptual master plan, which includes drawings outlining the construction of a second district high school.