Board considers building options

Just two weeks after approving a
$35 million bond issue to fund construction of a new elementary school, the Iola USD 257 Board of Education on April 14 began considering changing course and may pursue instead a larger bond issue for both an elementary and a high school.
The board in March scheduled for June 24 a public bond issue election to vote on a new elementary school. But in April, after discussing the fact that the elementary bond may take 30 years to pay off, board members came to the conclusion that the high school building may not last that long.
Therefore, the board is now looking at two other options as well. First, officials discussed the possibility of scratching the summer vote and putting a different, larger bond issue on the ballot in November instead to pay for both elementary and high school buildings. Secondly, they talked about going ahead with the June vote on the elementary and then proposing a follow-up bond issue for a new high school.
Finding a way to afford this is the problem at hand, board members said. “The cost just became too much,” Superintendent Jack Koehn said in March of the construction estimates.
At the April 14 meeting, officials brought up the idea of a tapping a citywide sales tax to help pay off the portion of any bond amount that doesn’t qualify for state matching funds.
The board next meets in May.
Considering that the IHS building is nearly 100 years old. many high school students have been expressing hopes for a new campus amid all the talk of possible construction and a recent community survey on district building needs. Before the March 31 special board meeting, the buzz about the potential construction of new schools had been intensifying.
The idea in the long term for a districtwide campus is to have all buildings in one central location, a more convenient alternative than the current layout of schools, officials say.
The case for new construction that has been made to the public is a long-term financial one. Every year, maintenance for the high school and middle school costs the district about $1 million due to structural problems. Koehn made an argument in March that this is money that could be put to much better use in the schools, possibly toward new technology and school supplies for students.
Koehn said he is enthusiastic about the future of the district. “New schools in Iola would change the culture of not only the school but also the community,” he said.
If the June elementary bond issue were passed, depending on weather conditions, Koehn said, construction could begin this fall.