Superintendent pitches facilities project that would close Lyndon’s Sixth Street

LYNDON – USD 421 Superintendent Brian Spencer was making the rounds Monday, in a quest to determine whether Lyndon’s Sixth Street could be permanently closed and a school addition built across it.

Spencer first visited the Osage County commissioners Monday morning, asking about Sixth Street’s designation as a federal aid secondary route, and if that route could be changed so that Sixth Street could be closed.

He said the USD 421 Board of Education is in “very preliminary discussions about connecting a couple of buildings to have one big, secure campus.” In a letter to Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets, Spencer said the school district needed “guidance and assistance in closing 6th Street between Cedar and Date Streets.”

Osage County road and bridge supervisor Glen Tyson explained that F.A.S routes originally were designated as roads to serve agriculture and other interests, and the county could change that designation if deemed necessary. But Sixth Street, which is 253rd Street outside of Lyndon’s east and west city limits, is also considered a connecting link for the county road, because it crosses the city on a city street.

Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall told Spencer the commissioners were willing to think about the project and work with the school district to change the F.A.S. designation, but it would require cooperation of the city of Lyndon.

“The city has to be a partner and willing to work with us,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall noted that as a connecting link, the county maintains that road and provides snow removal, but the city has the option of taking over the road and accepting payment from the county to cover costs of maintenance. He said Osage City is the only town in the county that has a connecting link maintenance agreement with the county. Kuykendall said the city could take over the route and “build their own access” to the east side of town.

With Tyson questioning whether the decision to build the school depended upon voters’ approval, the discussion turned to elections, with Spencer saying the school board would be aiming for an April election.

Beets said that an election held in April would require a special election to be held, with the cost paid by the school district. She said the election could be held in August during the primary election at no cost to the school district.

Spencer said that an earlier election would be preferable due to the current amount of aid the state provides on school facility bond issues.

“A lot depends on Topeka,” he said. “Over 40 percent of state aid on a bond issue is a major part of this.”

He said there is concern that the law that provides state aid on bond issues could be changed in the next legislative session.

Monday evening, Spencer met with the Lyndon City Council, and told them he was researching the possibility of closing Sixth Street for the school project.

He said the school board had decided a building project that demolishes older parts of Lyndon Elementary School and Lyndon High School, “is the most fiscally responsible, to build across Sixth Street and have the schools under one roof and make one secure campus.”

Questioned by the council about other possible plans, he said if that if Sixth Street could not be closed, the board would “go for a more expensive option.”

Lyndon Mayor Brandon Smith said some of the traffic on Sixth Street is “big agricultural equipment,” and if the street was closed a new route would need to be constructed to accommodate that traffic. Lyndon Police Chief Darrel Manning confirmed some of the agricultural traffic on the street included large, loaded hay trucks.

Smith said that improving “skinny side streets” could be expensive, and the city council would need to know how much it would cost before it could approve such a plan.

Lyndon’s maintenance supervisor, David Wilson, said the part of Sixth Street between the two schools had sewer and water lines that would require rerouting, and the side streets in the area weren’t built to handle the same weight of traffic.

“There are a whole lot of things to look at without a whole lot of time,” Wilson said.

Spencer agreed that he needed an answer quickly about whether the city would agree to close the street and also potential costs.

Lyndon City Administrator Kim Newman said it would take time to determine the cost of closing Sixth Street and creating an alternate route.

“There’s no way I could know the cost right now,” Newman said.

She said Sixth Street was “the best road we have” in Lyndon.

“We would have to rebuild Sixth Street somewhere in this city,” she said.

Lyndon City Council Member Chris Cole said the rush to make a decision made him uncomfortable.

“What I don’t like is having to make a decision really quick,” Cole said.

Lyndon City Council Member Darby Kneisler said the city’s funds weren’t sufficient to pay for such a project.

“The city has always had a real tight budget – we’re counting pennies,” Kneisler said.

But, he offered, “if the city allows Sixth Street to be closed off and the district pays all of the expenses … then everybody in the district pays.”

Spencer said he did not know if the school district could pay to build city streets with the proposed bond issue, since it wasn’t school property.

“That’s something we recommend you ask,” Cole told him.

With Newman saying, “There’s no way we could say yes if it’s going to cost $3 million,” the council seemed in agreement that the potential costs should be determined before the city could make a decision on the plan.

After trying to hash out the city’s response to the school district, council members reached an apparent consensus to direct Newman to work with the city’s on-call engineering firm and Spencer to develop an estimate of the costs of closing Sixth Street and constructing a new route around the proposed new school facilities.

Spencer provided an explanation of the proposed project in a letter to school patrons, which was to be published in the school district’s newsletter. The letter is available here.

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