Board hears plans for how to use older facilities
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
If voters approve a $127 million bond issue in the April 8 special election, USD No. 480’s active school buildings will drop from the current 13 in use to nine. The facilities plan — designed with citizen input — trims the district’s elementary school locations to five buildings for students kindergarten through fifth grade. It eliminates the use of separate intermediate schools and assigns two locations for the existing preschool program operated by USD 480.
With all the reshuffling and new construction, some buildings will no longer be needed. That, said DLR architecture/engineering representative Kevin Greischler at Monday’s school board meeting, raises an important issue:
“There needs to be repurposing for everything in the district,” he said. “We don’t want any more of that —” he gestured toward the former high school building across the street from the Education Service Center on Grant Ave. — “sitting empty.”
While the northernmost section of the former high school is occupied by a local church, the south half of the building remains boarded up and unused. For nearly 30 years, Liberal residents have fretted about the waste of a good building and the problems of its vacancy. At times, the empty spaces attracted vagrants and squatters. Though the property has been maintained with greater security over the past 10 years, its quiet bulk remains a reminder of poor planning.
In the spirit of avoiding that scenario, Greischler provided a quick rundown of what the architects and auxiliary services team suggest for older or unusable buildings in the district.
Garfield Elementary: This building would no longer be an elementary school, but could be put to use as a permanent site for the alternative high school and “FOCUS” classes. Currently, those students meet in portable units next to the equipment yard on the southwest corner of the Liberal High School property. At the Garfield site, the portable units now parked in the playground area would be removed.
McKinley Elementary: Also currently an elementary, it would no longer house students. Because it is centrally located, Greischler said, it’s the ideal location for Central Office needs. All offices now located at the current Central Office on Kansas Ave., and those in the Education Service Center on Grant Ave., would move to the McKinley site. Professional development sessions for educators in the district would take place there, as well.
Central Office and Education Service Center: Because of their proximity to the downtown business district, Greischler said, “there’s been discussion about those buildings being marketable pieces of real estate.” The district would likely try to sell them. The current Central Office building was originally constructed as the Liberal Post Office, and was vacated 51 years ago and sold to the school district when the current post office was built.
MacArthur Elementary: The bond issue calls for an entirely new, kindergarten-to-fifth-grade elementary school to be built on the large piece of USD 480-owned, open property adjacent to the current school building. When that new facility is complete, Greischler said, “the old MacArthur would be demolished.”
Washington Elementary and McDermott Elementary: Both these older buildings are located on Liberal’s main commercial thoroughfares — Kansas Ave. for the former and Pancake Blvd. for the latter. After removing the many portable structures crowding its playground area, Washington could be sold. If the site is more valuable for its land property, Greischler noted, demolition might be chosen prior to putting Washington on the real estate market. McDermott, with its many buildings, would likely be razed before the property was sold.
Lincoln Elementary and Southlawn Elementary: These two facilities would be transformed into pre-kindergarten centers, in order to house the district’s existing preschool program. The changeover would require minor modifications, Greischler said, “but those would be handled through the district’s capital outlay funds,” much as regular maintenance and small projects are currently managed. “It would certainly be better for those children than having them in the portable buildings,” he said.
South Middle School: With its relatively new gymnasium addition, the building would be ideal for a community-use facility, planners noted. It’s possible the older, honeycomb-shaped classroom portions of the original building might be demolished, or the entire complex might be transformed into a space for community outreach, classes and recreation. Details about whether the building would be taken over by the City of Liberal’s Parks and Recreation department, leased, sold or held by USD 480, are still in the brainstorming stages.
West Middle School: As part of the goal of reducing overcrowding at Liberal High School — which is already over capacity — this campus would become an annex to LHS, with some modifications to unify the two campuses. The planners aren’t sure whether the former WMS would become a self-contained ninth-grade academy or simply additional space “to relieve pressure at LHS by removing about 300 kids,” Greischler said.
“One of the things we want to make sure of … is to remove the trepidation” students and parents feel as they look to the next few years, he said. With the district, DLR is in the process of designing displays for each school that address the question, “How will the bond issue impact my school?”
Repurposing is important, he said, and so is the job of letting people know what’s going to happen.
Board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott brought up the question of land currently owned by USD 480. The largest example is a several-acre piece of property adjacent to Seward County Community College/Area Technical School.
“If we’re not going to use it (for bond projects), what are we going to do with it?” she asked.
“If we’re not using the land, we could look at selling it,” said superintendent of schools Paul Larkin.
In executive session, the board met with legal counsel Rick Yoxall, representatives from construction managers JE Dunn and DLR to discuss property purchases. No announcements about the specific sites have yet been made.