‘We’ve got a lot of options’
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leadre & Times
A bond issue election scheduled for April 8 will present Seward County residents with the choice to fund construction projects for overcrowded, ever-expanding USD 480 schools.
The projects, designed by consensus with citizen input, include five new buildings, four which would be constructed on new sites. One, a replacement project for the current MacArthur Elementary School, would be constructed next to the existing school on property the district already owns.
What about the other proposed schools? New middle school buildings are proposed on the northwest quadrant and southeast quadrant of Liberal. Two entirely new kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary schools are also proposed for construction east of Kansas Ave. At this stage, no firm plans have been made about exact locations.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on right now,” said USD 480 superintendent of schools Paul Larkin. “We’ve had a couple board of education executive sessions andwe’re discussing property purchases.”
The “we” Larkin referred to includes architecture/engineering firm DLR, construction managers JE Dunn, the City of Liberal, and district representatives. Among the issues up for discussion are the questions:
Where does it makes sense to build, in terms of city infrastructure and traffic?
What makes sense, based on current population and predictions for growth?
Where are flood zones, water and sewer lines, utilities?
What property is available?
That last question is the trickiest, Larkin said, and explains the need for executive session discussion of possible land purchases.
“Let’s say we wanted to move towards a location just outside of the town’s current edge, for the sake of discussion,” Larkin said. He added that he was not describing an actual proposal, just giving an example to illustrate the need for discretion.
“We don’t want anyone tipping our hand,” he said. “If property owners know that the district is interested, that’s going to jack the price up. We have to be responsible and negotiate for the very best prices possible, because it isn’t the district’s money we’re talking about. It’s the taxpayers’ money.”
That said, the board is looking at “any and all properties,” Larkin said. “There is no preferential treatment.”
Currently, the district owns about 30 acres in the northeast section of Liberal, along with a substantial piece of land around the current South Middle School facility.
“We’ve got a lot of options,” Larkin said.
The proposed funding arrangement relies on voter approval of a half-cent sales tax increase, and will aid in the costs of construction tied to city infrastructure — streets, curbing, water lines and the like.
“Our attorneys — the district and the city — are working on the interlocal agreement together,” Larkin said. “The document is not done, but when it is, both boards will have to approve a resolution to adopt it.”
As with all board-approved documents, the interlocal agreement will be open to the public, as will the eventual land purchase or purchases.
“Once the entire process is over, it’s going to be completely transparent, everything we looked at, what we decided,” Larkin said. “We won’t have anything to hide, but we need to be cautious up front.”