• WHAT’S THE ISSUE: The Independence School District is asking voters to approve the purchase of $38 million in bonds in the April 4 election.
• WHY DOES IT MATTER: It’s a no-tax increase bond issue, and funds will provide for a new elementary school and additions and renovations to all three district high schools to alleviate space concerns and help the career academies.
The Independence School District’s proposed bond issue would provide for a new elementary school in the city’s southwest area, plus renovations to all three high schools that add space devoted to their career academy classes.
On April 4, the district will ask voters to approve $38 million in bonds that would not result in any district tax increase, since the district would remain within its bonding capacity.
The new elementary school and high school additions would eliminate the need for mobile classrooms and absorb future growth, and Superintendent Dale Herl stresses that the academy benefits are just as important.
“It’s very well-known that we have space issues,” Herl said. “But a lot of this is about job development as much as that space.”
The bond issue checks off five key boxes, he said. It would improve the appearance of the high schools, help the academies, get rid of mobile units, account for future space needs and do so with no tax increase.
The new elementary school would be at what is now Cassell Park at the corner of 31st Street and Hardy Avenue. If the bond passes, the new school – temporarily called Cassell Elementary on the renderings – would be built with a capacity of 450 to 500 students and would be finished in the summer of 2019.
The district has owned the 8-acre plot since 2008 – obtained in the transfer from the Kansas City School District – and Independence Parks and Recreation has handled what little maintenance is needed for the basic ballfields there.
The school would be a feeder for Nowlin Middle School and then Van Horn High School, so attendance boundaries for Korte, Three Trails and possibly Fairmount elementaries would be re-drawn. Nowlin Middle School is just down the block from the proposed school site.
Herl said Nowlin is projected to soon be the district’s most populous middle school, as the areas for Korte and Three Trails have seen the most school-age population growth in recent years.
Teachers for the new elementary would mostly be transferred from other schools, but additional support staff and administrators would be hired. The new elementary also would house the district’s K-5 English Language Learner program – currently at Nowlin – so those students would be around like-age children.
High school projects
At Van Horn High School, the district plans to add a new main gymnasium with a mezzanine on one side, built out to the east in what is currently a grass field. The existing gymnasium would become the secondary gym.
“To our knowledge, it’s the only school in the metro area that size without two gyms,” Herl said.
Some currently unused space would be used for the woodworking program, and additional classroom space will be for metal classes and the district’s capstone course for culinary arts. First, the standalone building just north of the high school would be torn down to make way for much-needed parking.
This would be the biggest renovation project, Herl said, taking 18 to 20 months.
At Chrisman, the district plans to add on to the northeast corner, with a new weight room on one floor and CISCO certified classes in information technology on the other. The current weight room would become dedicated space for the wrestling program, which currently is in old unheated gun range in the basement.
Truman High School would receive an expanded entrance area for greater security, a lunch room expansion on the north side and four academy classrooms added to the southwest corner.
All three high schools will have space for culinary classes, which have outgrown their current space at the Ennovation Center, and the science and health/PE rooms would receive upgrades that Herl said are sorely needed in many cases.
Chrisman senior Preston Quintanilla, who plans to attend Metropolitan Community College-Blue River, said the culinary academy gave him good hands-on experience, and more academy opportunities in the future can only be more beneficial.
“Not only working with food, which is something I love, but also working with commercial equipment. I’ve got my ProStart certificate (for culinary arts in high school). I’m already ready to go,” he said. “I do love culinary arts, and at least it’s something great to fall back on.”
“They’ll not only be able to work at their own school,” he said of future culinary students, “but they’ll also be more comfortable and more relaxed. They’ll know the workplace.”
Van Horn freshman Taylor Cowick said that, as a basketball player, he’s excited about the prospect of a new gymnasium, but the additional academy classes hold some appeal, as well, as he might dabble.
“I’m also excited about the classrooms for wood and metal,” he said.
When the district asked voters for a 24-cent levy increase two years ago, it received nearly 65 percent approval. Given that this bond means no tax increase, Herl has high hopes it will exceed the necessary four-sevenths approval, perhaps even as high as 70 to 75 percent approval.
Like Herl, Community Services League CEO Doug Cowan, who is serving as treasurer of the bond committee, said he hasn’t witnessed much negative feedback, if at all, from the community.
“I think people are excited about the investment and what it would do for the community,” Cowan said. “This gives a chance to refresh (the buildings) and make them more modern. It fits in with what we’re doing in the city. I think the academies are a great opportunity to invest in our communities.”
Because of the dual-credit hours and industry recognized credentials that academy students can earn, which translates to a head start for college or a career, Cowan said such an investment can help some of the families that use CSL services.
“Maybe college isn’t in their finances, but they can graduate with a dual degree,” Cowan said. “Not every kid needs to, nor should they have to, go to the traditional four-year school.
“In order (for the academies) to reach their potential, there’s got to be the space.”
If the bond passes, Herl said the district can hit the ground running with renovation/addition preparations.
“We’ll start all the projects just as soon as we can,” Herl said. “We will have documents ready to go on April 5.”