Open letter to USD 421 patrons: Why a building project?

By USD 421 Superintendent Brian Spencer

Lyndon has nice facilities, and over the years the district has done a nice job of adding onto the old as well as maintaining the original facilities. There has always been discussion about other projects and what could be improved upon, but for the most part people are pleased with the school facilities. People appreciate that there is only one campus, and we are able to share staff and other resources back and forth. The buses are able to make one drop. There is only one cafeteria. There is only one Art room, but students in both buildings are able to take art classes in a quality facility. There are many advantages to a facility like ours. However, there are some disadvantages as well.

For people that are new to the district, the idea that small students must cross the street multiple times per day, and that the buildings are not fully secured during the day is disconcerting. The more school violence that occurs across the country the more this becomes an issue, even to those in the Lyndon community that have always had to cross 6th Street. It has simply been a way of life for those that live here, but times have changed, and campus security and safety are major concerns now. Fifteen years ago, who would have believed that “Intruder Drills” would be held just like fire and tornado drills?

In addition to the idea of crossing the street and unsecured buildings, there are safety issues related to dropping students off in the circle drive and on 6th Street. Again, those that have lived it don’t think much of it, but for newcomers it is terribly confusing and appears dangerous. After working the cross walk myself, I can share it can be rather unnerving. More than once I have worried about kids unloading in front of other vehicles. The circle drive is rather tense as well because there is no parking in the area, but people often need to go into the building with their students, so unattended cars disrupt the traffic flow, and often students cross between cars waiting in line to pick up or drop off. The whole situation, although we have not had any major incidents, is rather worrisome.

Traffic and unwanted entry are not the only safety issues that worry people. Another ongoing concern is severe weather. One only needed to watch the footage following the tornados last spring to wonder what would happen if such a storm struck Lyndon. Honestly, the results could be very similar. We have very limited FEMA approved shelters. The 250 square feet hallway between the grade school gym and the newest addition is the only FEMA approved shelter we have. The rest of the areas we use, although quite sturdy and usually below ground level, do not meet FEMA specifications. The reasons they don’t meet standards vary: They range from hot water plumbing in the area, types of doors on the rooms, to windows in the designated area. Storm shelters have become a more pressing issue than back in the 1920’s, 30’s, 60’s, 80’s or 90’s when the facilities were built. (The original grade school was built prior to 1921!)

In addition to the safety issues, one doesn’t have to look too hard to notice that the original buildings are quite old, and although well maintained, are showing their age. A recent study conducted on the original high school building revealed that although the building is structurally sound, there are many issues that need to be addressed soon. The list of necessary upgrades, none of which are at a crisis level yet, include the very old and inefficient steam boiler heating system, replacing storm windows, replacing the carpet applied to the walls years ago as an upgrade to the original plaster, and tuck pointing some exterior brick work. The estimated cost to the issues identified in the study was approximately $800,000. That is only in the high school. There are similar concerns with the original grade school building. These are concerns with the maintenance of the building and don’t even address the ongoing concerns of the aging kitchen cafeteria / lunchroom. The latest major upgrade in that area occurred when the high school gymnasium was built in 1967. The auditorium, although a great facility in its day, still has seats sized for people prior to 1950, not seats configured for larger people in the 2000s.

The Lyndon Board of Education has spent significant time addressing Long Range Planning the past few years, and ultimately has decided the best way to address these needs is to explore a large building project that will offer solutions to the most pressing issues: the safety and security of our students and the aging original structures. Last May, to preliminarily address some of the security issues, the board approved relocating the elementary school office; however, after weighing the related expense and logistical issues with the awareness that simply moving the office wouldn’t provide the desired security level, the board chose to explore a larger and more encompassing project.

We are currently exploring the possibilities of building a “connecting” type of structure

across 6th Street. The addition would replace the original buildings, and would connect the remaining, newer portions of the facilities.. There are significant challenges to this project, but after careful consideration the board feels this is the first option to explore. The facilities in the original buildings that would be lost would be replaced in the new addition. These include both high school and elementary classrooms, the library, auditorium, and the kitchen / lunchroom. It is more economical to maintain the newer, up to date facilities the district has added since the late 1980’s and merge them under one roof than to totally replace everything on one side of the street to accomplish the same things. Right now we don’t know the total cost of the project, but we are working to develop that. We want the people of Lyndon to be well informed and know the options as they develop. If the process of building across 6th Street is deemed cost prohibitive or cannot be approved at some level for some reason, then other options will have to be considered. The board seeks to continue to be good stewards of the district funds, and will not work past what is feasible. Ultimately, the goal is to bring a bond issue to the patrons for approval possibly as early as April.

That may seem like a very aggressive time frame, but there are several important matters to consider. Possibly the most important item to consider is the current state law concerning state funding for school bond projects. Because of several demographic factors, the state of Kansas will pay equalization aid for our district. The current law would allow Lyndon, USD 421 to receive 40% or more of the bond amount from the state of Kansas! Yes, you read that correctly. It is like getting 40% off of a purchase if you make the purchase during the sale. We don’t know how long the sale will continue, so we think now is the best time to proceed with a building project of this nature. When a district simply levies taxes for capital outlay purposes, it doesn’t receive any equalization aid; however, it does receive aid for bond construction. This means it makes more fiscal sense to borrow the money and receive the state aid, than to levy higher taxes and save up to pay for the project in the future. At this point we don’t know the details about the cost of the project or how it relates to mil rates, but when we discover whether or not we can connect our buildings across 6th Street, we will develop the costs and the mil rates very quickly.

A Focus Committee has been formed and has met twice. There are representatives on this committee from a cross-section of the community. Retired patrons as well as young families are represented, as are the business community and agriculture-related stakeholders. In order to receive ideas and feedback from the community we will hold community meetings. We encourage patrons to attend these meetings to receive the latest information first hand. At this time no meeting dates are set, but as we develop a timeline and make plans, meetings will be scheduled and publicized. Our goal is to keep everyone informed and develop a long range plan that will safely carry our students well into the future.

3 Responses to Open letter to USD 421 patrons: Why a building project?

  1. Myopinion says:

    I don't like the scare tactics. "If we don't make a new school, your children are in danger!" This is Lyndon, safety if why most of us live here. I also think that a multimillion dollar school is ridiculous for a city this size.

  2. Anon says:

    Seriously? 40% discount? Are you insane? You do realize that state money doesn't just "appear" out of thin air right? That ALSO comes from the taxpayers. If every small district does what you are trying to pull, we ALL will face MUCH higher taxes, just so you get a nice little bullet on your resume. HOW exactly would this make the school safer/more secure??? We still have to get in somehow! The chances of a school incident are less than lightning striking the children – why aren't you proposing major lightning prevention equipment? Playing on people's fears, and misrepresenting financing options are terrible ways to gain support for your ideas.

  3. Old Grandma says:

    I don't like the idea of tearing down the old historic schools – think harder. I would rather see two complete campuses across the street from each other – no different than districts having two or three schools in two or three towns. Over the years I have heard we can't even get the street tclosed during school time or student arrival and departure and now all of a sudden we can build over it and close it down completely?

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