USD 333 Concordia Board Continues Exploration of Concepts and Cost Estimates for a Prospective Bond Election

By Toby Nosker
KNCK News Director

For the second time in eight days, the USD 333 Concordia Board of Education met Wednesday, December 5th for a special study session to review possible school improvement concepts and cost estimates for a prospective bond election next year.

Last month, USD 333 Concordia Superintendent Quentin Breese said he wants to spend the next six months working on determining the scope of the renovations and improvements to facilities throughout the district, before finalizing a bond amount and approving a plan of financing.

Mike Mayo, Principal Architect with Ebert Mayo Design Group Architects & Planning Consultants of Manhattan, who the district contracted with in 2017 to provide consulting services for facilities planning, presented the board with updated construction cost estimates for Concordia Junior/Senior High School, Concordia Elementary School, and the former Concordia Middle School, now the USD 333 Service Center at 1001 E. 7th Street in Concordia.

The projected total improvement costs presented amounted to $34.4 million, revised down from $41.9 million as originally presented last week.

The reduction is a result of the board reassessing their top priority line items for the Concordia Junior/Senior High School facility.

At their November regular meeting, Superintendent Breese said their immediate needs at the facility include outdated science labs, a junior varsity gymnasium floor that is at the end of its life and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and a very large footprint that is difficult to travel through due to flow and ADA compliance needs.

Mayo's current design concepts for renovations to the existing Concordia Junior/Senior High School building include modifying the junior varsity gymnasium into a new science suite with assorted classrooms and lab space at an estimated cost of $2.6 million; construction of a new auxiliary gym with competition courts and 300-seat retractable bleachers at an estimated cost of $3.3 million; reconstructing the old swimming pool area to house locker rooms and a new wrestling practice facility at an estimated cost of $2.6 million; the creation of a multi-level special education suite at an estimated cost of $648,000; and the remodel of the administrative offices to accommodate for a new secure entrance off of 10th Street at a cost of $184,000.

In order to build an auxiliary gymnasium on the north side of the facility, the district would have to acquire property. The board already made a real estate purchase in May 2018 when they bought the home at 920 Cedar Street in Concordia.

Mayo previously estimated it would cost $549,410, based on 2018 Cloud County Appraisals, to purchase the entire block of houses on 10th Street from Cedar Street to Republican Street. At this week's meeting, he calculated the board could save over $422,000 in land acquisition if they only purchased property needed to construct the auxiliary gymnasium.

The board had an extended conversation about the overall footmark of the auxiliary gymnasium, narrowing in on the size of the space that's essential to meeting the district's needs.

"We're back to needs and wants. This is a want," said Board Chairman Mark Nordell. "If we don't chip away (at the cost of the gymnasium), we don't get the common-sense science stuff and classroom stuff that we need for our school and the room for the extra improvements. I'm in favor of the gym, but if we can save $400,000 by shortening the building... We need to start chipping away at the things we can."

The board also held a lengthy dialogue about plans to reopen the former Concordia Middle School building because of the expanding size of the classes at Concordia Elementary School and concern over the impact these bigger classes will have on class sizes and space once the students graduate to the Concordia Junior/Senior High School building.

In October 2012, the USD 333 Concordia Board of Education voted unanimously to support the administration's recommendation -- led by then-Superintendent Bev Mortimer -- to close the Concordia Middle School facility beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year, relocating the district's 5th and 6th Grade students to available space at the Concordia Junior/Senior High School building.

Now named the USD 333 Service Center, the former Concordia Middle School has been home in recent years to the Concordia After-School Program (CAP), Head Start, and the Smoky Hill Service Center. The gymnasium inside the facility is used by CAP, Head Start, Concordia Recreation, and many of the athletic teams at Concordia Junior/Senior High School. Cloud County Community College also rents the cafeteria space, adjoining rooms, and locker rooms as a practice facility for the college's wrestling program.

In August 2018, the board discussed several options for the facility, including reopening the old Middle School building to the district's 5th and 6th Grade students; or moving all of the early childhood programs through Kindergarten to the old Middle School facility while using the residual space to keep 5th Grade students at Concordia Elementary School an extra year. Ultimately, in October, Superintendent Breese suggested they take a year to look at additional data before making the call on reopening that building.

This week, Nordell proposed eliminating the former Middle School building, and tweaking the construction plans for Concordia Junior/Senior High School and Concordia Elementary School by building adjoining classroom spaces at those sites.

"Instead of spending $8.2 million for a specific grade of classrooms (at the old Middle School), if we can do it for half the price where they're located now and add on more room and classrooms, wouldn't that be more efficient? As long as we are already building structures (at CJSHS and CES), a little bit more there would still be less than redoing the middle school," Nordell said.

Other board members don't want to see the district relinquish ownership of the old Middle School.

"I'm not a fan of getting rid of the Middle School building. The cost that we've incurred keeping it is minimal. I just think having that facility long term, for what it would cost, is something we can't get rid of," board member Steve Wetter said. "I would try to figure out a way to get 4th and 5th grade students in. You're making space at the Elementary School and the Junior/Senior High School."

"I'm in favor, at this point, of moving 4th and 5th back to the Middle School," board member Tony Miller added.

"I think the dilemma we have as administrators is we're trying to give you what we know best educationally. I know there's other issues. I know it's contingent upon wanting to do what's best for the taxpayer. From our professional opinion, from living it and working it every day, that's what I think is best for kids, if we focus on a 4, 5, 6 concept (at the old Middle School)," Superintendent Breese shared. "If it can not be that way, we're making it work now. So yes, we'll make it work."

The board will hold another study session Wednesday, December 19th at 6 pm to continue to examine design concepts.

A probable timeline would call for a bond election in November 2019. There is the potential for the district to do a mail ballot special election in September 2019.