USD 475

Unified School District 475’s bond election is back on.

Though it was initially intended to be held May 9, the bond election will now be held Nov. 7, in tandem with the general election. Superintendent Corbin Witt said he preferred this date because he believed holding it in November would increase voter turnout.

The USD 475 Board of Education decided on this date at its May meeting, Monday evening.

Board member Dr. Anwar Khoury wasn’t comfortable, considering the current situation in Washington, D.C., with voting in favor of the bond election. He feels there is too much uncertainty with the budget.

He preferred a lower amount, as did board member Carolyn Gaston. She compared the possible future Junction City High School to one in Olathe which cost less than $100 million.

“This uncertainty that there may be an increase in the mill levy in the next three years makes me nervous,” Khoury said.

Board member Dr. Ferrell Miller fell on the other side of the issue. He compared the discussion around the bond election to the one surrounding the restoration of the C.L. Hoover Opera House several years past and to the construction of both Junction City Middle School and Spring Valley Elementary School. Several improvements in town have come to a vote — and a narrow one at that, Miller said.

“We’re gonna have those naysayers,” he said. “It’s a risk that we take.”

According to Witt, the $105 million is an estimate presented to the district by an architectural firm it has worked with in the past. He said it wasn’t possible to have an exact dollar amount on the project when the project hasn’t even come close to beginning yet. Officials are still in the campaigning phase — a phase which was recently put on hold until after the district had received its heavily-impacted military aid from the federal government.

There is a possibility the cost will come in under the $105 million amount — this is what the board is hoping, according to officials. USD 475 doesn’t have to spend the entire $105 million, this total is merely a ceiling for spending. According to Chief Operating Officer Bill Clark, every expense was figured into this total. This includes the demolition of the current high school building.

Gaston expressed fear the total would provoke the district to spend the entire amount.

Witt also said if the board went back to chose to do the bond election for a lower amount, officials would have to resubmit their request for matching funds from the state to the Kansas State Board of Education. They’ve already done so this time around and received a yes on the 48 percent match. This might not be the case the second time around, he said.

Clark said he was concerned with the future of Fort Riley. He spoke about how the 1st Infantry Division left Fort Riley in 1996. He said the military considers many things when making cuts and changes and education is one of them. He expressed concern that the poor state of JCHS could play a factor in cuts to Fort Riley.

“I encourage you to think long-term about Fort Riley and it’s significance and how the Army values education,” Clark said. “If we are not good stewards of what the Army has given to us, the Army may say, ‘I’m going to take my toys and go elsewhere.’”

He spoke about how several schools on Fort Riley were built largely with funds from the military.

Members motioned to have the bond election for a total not to exceed $105 million to go toward building a new JCHS on a new location. It passed two to four, with Khoury and Gaston voting against.

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