Feb 07, 2022

Hays USD 489 school board sends $143.5M bond to voters

Posted Feb 07, 2022 11:15 PM
Hays USD 489 school board voted Monday to send a bond issue to voters on May 10.<br>
Hays USD 489 school board voted Monday to send a bond issue to voters on May 10.

Hays Post

The Hays USD 489 school board Monday unanimously voted to take a $143.5 million bond issue to the voters on May 10.

The largest feature of the bond would be the construction of a new high school adjacent to the current high school on land already owned by the school district.

Also included in the proposal is:
• The middle school moving into the renovated high school
• Hays Middle School being renovated into a new elementary school
• O'Loughlin and Roosevelt elementary schools would be renovated
• Administrative offices and the Westside program would be moved to Wilson
• Rockwell Administration Center and Lincoln Elementary School would be closed

See more details on specifics changes planned for each building.


If the bond is funded only through property tax, it would cost a taxpayer $35.94 per month on a $200,000 home. That would be $431 per year.


However, district officials have suggested using a half cent sales tax to reduce the property tax rate. The use of a sales tax could reduce the property tax to $21.56 per month for a $200,000 home and to $16.17 for the owner of a $150,000 home.

The Hays City Commission also has to approve the sale tax question before it can go to voters. The commission is set to consider that request at its meeting on Thursday.

The sales tax and bond issue will be separate questions on the ballot, which means the bond issue could pass without the sales tax passing. However, the sales tax would be contingent on the bond issue passing.

Capacity issues<br>

"This is about space and the need for space in our district," Superintendent Ron Wilson told the board Monday.

All of the district's schools are operating over capacity with the exception of Lincoln Elementary School. The district has grown by 300 students during the last 15 years, and enrollment is predicted to continue to grow.

The new high school, as well as the renovated spaces for the middle school and elementary schools, would have room for growth.

The new high school would have space for 1,000 to 1,400 students. The middle school would have capacity for 900 students, and the elementary schools would have capacity for from 350 to 500 students, depending on how many sections of each grade were at the schools.

The district is proposing initially having four sections of each grade at the renovated middle school and Roosevelt and three sections at O'Loughlin. That would account for the 11 sections of each grade that are currently in the district.

Enhancing academics with new space

The new high school would allow for the addition of a culinary kitchen for career education at the high school.

"We have a great career tech environment, but I think we could make it so much better than we currently have," Wilson said.

Middle school students are very limited on what electives they  can take because the space constraints at the current HMS. Moving HMS into the renovated high school would allow the district to significantly expand the school's ability to offer career and technical classes at the middle school level.

The new high school would include an auditorium.

"Right there, that should be in bold print," Wilson said. "That should be leading this bond issue. This community — our school — needs an auditorium that is comparable to what other districts have and that our students can perform in for lots of different things and be proud of."

The new high school will include some limited improvements to athletic facilities, including a new softball field.

Board President Tammy Wellbrock said space, such as gyms, that are considered by some to be athletic are used throughout the academic day for classes.

Both the middle school and high school have cafeteria's that are undersized.

The elementary schools have one room that serves as cafeteria, gym and auditorium. This significantly limits the schools' scheduling abilities, Wilson said, to the point the schools can't schedule time for extra math and reading tutoring.

"We want to do better, but sometimes our space issues aren't allowing us to do better," Wilson said.

As the district renovates spaces, it also wants to look at the pickup and drop off at O'Loughlin, which regularly snarls traffic on Hall Street.

Addressing maintenance issues

Included in the work at the renovated schools will be addressing any issues required to keep kids and staff warm, safe and dry. That includes HVAC, electrical and plumbing.

"That allows us to catch up," Wilson said. "It doesn't necessarily allow us to get ahead, because we have been working behind for a long time. It's going to get us up to where we need to be."

Because maintenance issues are being addressed in the bond, capital funds that had been used to pay for repairs could be used for other things.

"We are touching every building," she said. "I think there has been some confusion in the past that this bond doesn't affect the building that I'm a part of. That's short-sighted in thinking. We want people to understand the bigger scope that all buildings will be touched."

Wilson said the district is spending $1.2 million every year in repairs. The district spends another $800,000 per year on leases, most of those leases are paying for HVAC and other major repair projects.

Why a special election?

Board member Allen Park asked how much the district will spend on a special election. The election will cost $20,000 to $30,000, said Stephanie Meyer, community engagement and public finance leader for DLR, the district's architectural firm.

Meyer said 90 days has been a typical lead-in time for bond campaigns. She also said special elections also tend to have better success rates for bond elections.

She said delaying the bond until the August primary could risk interest rates going up. If the interest rate went up as little as a quarter of a percent, it could cost the district as much $1 million, Wilson said.

Elementary size, school choice

Park, the former Washington Elementary School principal, also expressed concern about the potential of closing a two-section elementary school and opening a four-section school.

Amber Beverlin of DLR said four-section elementary schools operate most efficiently. She said the district is spending a lot of money to keep Lincoln open for about 200 students.

Board vice-president Craig Pallister said two-section elementary schools have to share PE teachers, art teachers and counselors, which is not good for anyone.

Park also expressed concerns about school choice as the schools are realigned. Wilson said the district would maintain school choice. Closure of Lincoln wouldn't happen for another five to six years if the bond passes. 

"As people see that the bonds passed, they start making decisions three to four years in advance," Wilson said. "In a lot of ways, it takes care of itself. It's not an issue of forcing people where they don't want to go."

Park also asked about the use of local contractors in construction. Ron Ferris of Nabholz Construction, construct manager at-risk, said a sub-contractor summit will allow local contractors to show what work they might be available for and receive information on the bidding process.

Wilson said he the bond can be passed.

"When I came to this district three years ago, I can't tell you how many people told me you will not get a bond passed in Hays. I say we can get it done... But we gotta believe it," Wilson said. ...

"We've worked hard to this point, we'll continue to work hard. If everyone does their part, I see this as a very positive thing for our community and an investment in our community that will carry for 50 to 100 years."

You can find a link to register to vote on the USD 489 website with a valid driver's license.