By Jessie Wagoner
McPHERSON—On June 8, registered voters living within the bounds of USD-418 will be asked to cast their vote regarding a proposed $112.8 million bond. The bond includes the construction of a new middle school on the current high school site, updates to the elementary schools and the construction of a stadium and practice field. Proponents of the bond say safety and facility needs are the top priority.
Student safety is the top priority for every school district, and McPherson is no different. Safety includes a variety of factors, all of which are addressed in the bond. One of the major safety enhancements provided by the bond is securing entrances at all of the elementary school buildings. Providing one secure entrance decreases the likelihood of someone entering the school and roaming freely. Secured entrances require any visitor to enter the building from one location and check-in at the office before having access to the remainder of the building where students are located.
Shiloh Vincent, USD-418 superintendent, said having a joint middle school and high school site will also increase student safety. Students are currently driving from the school facilities to practices, placing them at additional risk of being injured in a motor vehicle accident. They are also practicing at facilities with much older individuals. By having the schools and practice fields on the same site, it reduces travel and increases safety.
“Safety is more than just secure entrances,” Vincent said. “One of the big benefits of a shared campus, of all of our seventh through 12th programs being on one site, is safety. That way we don’t have kids walking across Kansas to get to the middle school to their track practice; they can stay right there. We won’t have kids jumping in the back of pickups to go to football practice; we keep them right there. A key component of this project is safety.”
Kevin Greischer with DLR Group also points out the HVAC repairs which will be made to all schools in McPherson if the bond passes. Those repairs will help increase student safety by ensuring students have access to healthy air, preventing sick building symptoms.
“There are HVAC updates that will happen at the middle school, the new fifth and sixth center, and all of the new mechanical equipment that will go into the new facilities will be state-of-the-art mechanical systems that don’t exist now in the existing high school,” Griescher said. “Making sure that students and teachers feel good and comfortable in a building that doesn’t have a sick building syndrome or something like that.”
In 2018, the district had an in-depth facility needs study completed. The study revealed needs at every school in the district. As a result, the visioning committee considered those identified while creating the bond proposal. The proposal will address all of the needs identified.
“We tasked the visioning committee with solutions to address all of our facility needs,” Vincent said. “This solution does that. It addresses facility needs and prepares them to have schools that are sustainable for decades in the future.”
The updates and renovations in the bond will impact every student in the district. These include the creation of collaborative spaces at all schools, needed updates to carpeting, upgraded technology and state-of-the-art mechanics.
To fund the $112.8 million bond, there will be a tax increase for residents and businesses. With the current bond proposal and the 2013 bond, which is not set to expire until 2033, residential property owners are looking at a total tax of $25.15 a month on a $150,000 home.
Business and industry owners will see a higher tax increase. For example, a Main Street business valued at $200,000 is currently paying $34.79 a month towards the current bond indebtedness. If the proposed bond passes, that will increase to $75.83 a month. That business will pay a total of $910 a year towards the bonds.
Another aspect voters are being asked to consider is a 30-year extension of the half-cent sales tax. The city, in an effort to partner with the school district, has agreed to provide the proceeds of the half-cent sales tax to the district to help pay down the bond, making the impact on property owners less. Using current sales tax numbers, the half-cent tax would generate approximately $1.7 million a year or close to $48 million over the course of the 28 years it would be in effect.
Dustin Avery with DLR said other communities, like Liberal, have seen great success in paying off their bonds early, thanks to partnerships with the city. In Liberal, the city and district partnered and used a sales tax to help pay down the bond. They were able to pay off the bond several years early, saving a significant amount of money.
“Liberal did a sales tax election in 2014,” Avery said. “It was a sales tax and property tax project, very comparable to McPherson. Their financing was 25 years, but they are going to be paying their bond off in 18 years because sales tax is much better than they expected. So now they have the ability to pay it off seven years earlier than planned.”
What happens next
Early voting is already underway in McPherson. Registered voters are welcome to cast their votes at the McPherson County Courthouse during regular business hours. Voters can also wait and cast their votes in the special election on June 8 at their regular polling place. Both the bond and the city sales tax question would need to pass for the proposed bond to pass.
Luke Amend with Hutton explained what will happen next if the bond passes. The first step will be the design phase, which will include several steps and will take approximately one year to complete. Once the design phase is complete, the work will be bid. Construction will begin the summer of 2022.
“We will do work on all of the elementary schools that summer,” Amend said. “Work will only occur during the summer.”
Phase one will be completed at the high school site during the summer of 2022, and phase two will be completed during the summer of 2023. During the summer of 2023, work will also be completed at the existing middle school.
If the bond does not pass, facility needs will still remain and will have to be addressed.
“In 2018, the district’s comprehensive facility study showed that our buildings were in need of significant work,” Vincent said. “Those needs will not change or go away if the bond is unsuccessful. So, in the event of an unsuccessful bond, the district and the board of education would work to evaluate next steps, while maintaining facilities on the existing, limited capital outlay budget in the interim, with the understanding that a long-term solution to those challenges is still needed.”
The USD-418 Board of Education entered into a contract with DLR on July 22, 2019. The contract indicates that if the bond were to fail, the two parties agree to use DLR for two more bond elections at no additional cost to the district. Therefore, the district and DLR would be able to immediately go back to the drawing board to work on a second proposed bond if the first bond fails.