Unified School District 475 board members voted to close Jefferson Elementary School during this week’s meeting.
Dr. Beth Hudson — the district’s interim superintendent — said the facility was constructed in 1959, and it has had some operating issues lately. A boiler at the facility shut down about a month ago, and staff wondered if students would have to be moved to another school, she said.
“They were able to take parts from another boiler, and put them on the boiler,” Hudson said. “But it is a matter of time before that boiler goes down.”
Staff estimated it could cost up to $200,000 to replace the boiler, Hudson said. The school has also seen enrollment numbers drop; its current enrollment is 167.
“When I was at Jefferson, when I started my teaching career, we probably had close to 400 students there,” Hudson said.
Jefferson’s closure will be in effect for the next school year, and district officials plan to move students to either Morris Hill or Ware; two other elementary schools at Fort Riley. Board President Tom Brungardt said the district held meetings at Fort Riley in February to discuss options with parents and students.
“Meetings were held at Jefferson and Morris Hill to let people voice concerns and explain reasons for the closure,” Brungardt said.
Hudson said most questions asked during the meetings centered on where children would end up attending classes.
“We’ve not had any opposition at all,” Hudson said.
District staff has met with Jefferson staff to try and line them up with other district jobs, and most have already landed jobs at other locations, Hudson said.
“I think we have one left to place, potentially,” Hudson said.
A contingent from USD 475 recently met with Office of Economic Adjustment officials in Arlington, Va. Members of the contingent met with OEA officials to secure OEA approval to submit a formal grant request to replace Jefferson. If the grant is approved, federal funds would pay for 80 percent of the construction costs for the replacement school. Future plans could include replacing Morris Hill as well, and replacement costs for both schools — including demolition — would be $25 million.
USD 475 Chief Operating Officer David Wild said the immediate plan for Jefferson following its closure would be holding it in a warming status for 12-24 months until district officials know whether the district’s OEA grant application is approved.
“The moment we get approved, I’ll probably come back to the board and ask to raze the school,” Wild said.