By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays USD 489 school board approved the contracts for the $2 million purchase of the Oak Park Medical Complex at its meeting Monday night.
The district will use a $1.47 million federal grant to renovate the complex for use by the Early Childhood Connections program.
The district will pay back a lease agreement on the complex $217,000 per year for 10 years using capital outlay funds. District taxes will remain the same. HaysMed owns the most significant portion of the complex and has agreed to donate $500,000 back to the district from the purchase price to be used for the renovation of the complex.
Because the lease agreement was more than $100,000, it required a protest period for taxpayers. That period ended Sunday, Nov. 25, without a petition being presented.
The project will allow the district to expand its ECC program as well as vacate the 94-year-old Washington Elementary School building and Munjor school building.
The federal government has a goal of all Head Start positions moving to full day. On Monday, Donna Hudson-Hamiiton presented a grant application to the board, which it approved, for funds to expand 21 slots to full time.
This will mean 45 percent of the ECC’s Head Start slots will be full-time. Hudson-Hamilton projected more grants will follow to bring the rest of the slot to full-time within the next five years.
The ECC grant also requested $185,000 in start-up costs for the program to move playground equipment from the Washington location to the new Oak Park complex on 13th Street.
Preference for the all-day slots are given to parents who work or are going to school. Hudson-Hamilton said Head Start helps fill a gap for child care, as there is not enough private child care available in the community.
Board member Paul Adams described the increase in Head Start slots as an economic development issue because the Head Start spots keep parents employed.
The ECC program is available to all children in the district. This includes children who will go on to private school or to be home schooled.
There is currently not enough classroom space at Washington to house moving all the Head Start children to full-time attendance.
Only part of Washington school can be used for student classrooms. Law prohibits small children from attending classes on the second floor of a building because of the difficulty in evacuating them in case of an emergency.
Washington is also not handicap accessible and has had significant infrastructure issues, including problems with water and sewer. Superintendent John Thissen said the district questioned whether it was worth putting money into renovations of a building that was so old.
The vote was split on approval of Oak Park purchase with board members Mandy Fox and Greg Schwartz voting against. Board member Lance Bickle was unable to attend the meeting but sent a letter to Fox outlining his concerns about the project and his objection to the purchase.
Bickle said in his letter he thought the district was overpaying for the property based on the fact that it had been on the market for some time with little interest expressed in its purchase. He was also concerned about the condition of the roof, HVAC system and parking lot. He expressed concerned about a rush to purchase the property as well as a potential loss in tax revenue when the property comes off the tax roles. The taxes on the complex were almost $48,000 in 2017.
He also said he did not think this was the greatest need in the district at this time.
Schwartz also bemoaned a lack of a long-term plan.
“I don’t think we have addressed what we are going to forgo to get there,” he said of the Oak Park purchase.
He noted at one time the district had discussed moving the ECC program to O’Loughlin Elementary School if it were to no longer be used as an elementary school.
Adams said he believed the project was a proactive step to prepare local children for kindergarten, which is being emphasized by the Kansas Department of Education.
“This is not new. It is not out of the blue. This is a way to move forward with something that we have on our docket for a few years and do it,” Adams said.
He continued, “There is a risk, but there is not often that there is $1.5 million to mitigate that risk.”
Schwartz also expressed concern that one of the entities the district has a contract with is not the current owner of that portion of the property. Board Attorney Bill Jeter said that person has a contract to buy the property and will close on the property with the current owner and then sell the property to school district.
“I have concerns about the appraisal,” Schwartz said. “I have concerns about the overall project. I have mentioned those before. I would happy to go back over those, but I think everyone here knows my position on it.”
The federal grant funds for the renovation must be used by June 30. The new space is expected to be open for ECC students in fall 2019.
Washington school will be closed and put up for sale. If the building can’t be sold, money will be included in the project for the building to be demolished. The Munjor building will go back to the Catholic church.