While remodeling the Abilene High School Vocational Education building is the first priority of the Abilene USD 435 facilities task force, the second priority is upgrading Cowboy Stadium, the school district’s football field and track. A comprehensive remodel might include reshaping the track, surfacing the field with artificial turf, building new locker rooms, public restrooms, concessions and other areas.

The Abilene Public Schools facilities task force will receive proposals in the next couple weeks from three construction companies interested in remodeling the Abilene High School vocational education building.

During Monday’s Abilene Board of Education meeting, the task force reported it would likely make a recommendation regarding which proposal to use during the December board meeting.

Board President and facilities task force member Kyle Becker said the group already had met with representatives from the three companies — HTK Architects of Topeka, BG Construction and Riley Construction, both of Manhattan — to hear their general thoughts on the building.

“We let them do a walk through and kind of told them conceptually what we’re thinking with the building,” Becker said.

Besides Becker, the task force includes fellow board members Chris West and Jeff Bathurst and Superintendent Greg Brown.

Upcoming meetings with the construction companies will include Maintenance Supervisor Dave Canfield, Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith, and instructors Zach Cooper, ag teacher; Jeff Austin, woods teacher; and Nikole Cain, a new ag teacher who will join the district in January.

Smith and the three instructors recently visited vocational buildings at Buhler High School and Newton High School to examine those facilities.

“Our job was to look at the facility and see what to keep in mind as we redo ours,” Smith told the board. “We had some pretty good thoughts and ideas that came out of it.”

Representatives from several Abilene area manufacturing firms were contacted and asked to provide input about classes and programs which should be taught to help accommodate the businesses’ needs.

“We’ve very excited to have some of the local manufacturers involved in the conversation: What should the shop space look like?” said Superintendent Brown. “I like the way Kyle stated it: Is there a disconnect between what we teach and what they need? We would like to make sure there’s not (a disconnect) if at all possible.”

Facility needs

The vocational education building is one of three facilities that were not remodeled with funds raised by the $24.2 million bond issue approved by USD 435 voters in April 2014.

When bids came in higher than expected, the three non-school projects were dropped at the time, but board members said they would address those at a later time. In the years since, the district has “shored up” its capital outlay monies so money is available to start addressing the projects that were left behind.

The two other facilities still needing upgrades are Cowboy Stadium, the football field and track; and the district’s bus barn.

This past September, the task force said remodeling the vocational building is the number one priority because it is the one that serves the most students on a daily basis.

Ready for next school year?

Remodeling plans for the vocational building involve gutting the inside of the existing building and starting over. Since none of the inside walls are load-bearing, they can be removed.

Early drawings showed a definite separation between the welding and building trades spaces, classrooms running down the middle of the building, a display lobby and restrooms.

Board Member Randy Gassman asked if the focus is to get the vocational building completed by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

Becker said getting work done on that building is the task force’s first priority.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Brown said it’s believed the vocational building remodel possibly could be completed over summer break.

Cowboy Stadium

Upgrading Cowboy Stadium is second on the priority list. Becker said the task force already has had several contacts with representatives from Hellus Construction of Wichita.

A comprehensive remodel of the stadium will include upgrading the bleachers, reshaping the track, surfacing the football field with artificial turf and constructing new locker rooms, public restrooms, concessions and areas for the cheerleading and band programs.

The cost is initially estimated around $5.5 million.

“This is a significant expense that will require the district to pursue private funding sources for approximately half this amount prior to considering a lease-purchase for the remaining balance,” according to the task force report.

“They sent us a couple drawings,” Becker said. “One with the restrooms, locker rooms, concession stands on the south end and one with them on the north end, kind of in an ‘L’ shape. They’re doing a soil study right now.”

Becker said the initial plans will probably be “shrunk down.”

“Right now (the plans) have got 2,500 seats. I don’t know the last time we had twenty five hundred at a football game,” Becker said. “To be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, you have to have 30 women’s restroom stalls. That’s probably a little overkill for our games. So there will have to be some adjustments.”

Task force and Board Member Jeff Bathurst said the task force has no intention to use a bond issue or “anything extra” to fund a stadium remodel.

“We want to see what we could come up with from the community and see what we can do within our own budget, not raise taxes and not come up with any new tax money,” Bathurst said. “We want to see what’s out there.

“That’s our intention: To do it within our own budget, whether it’s a lease-purchase or whatever,” he added.

Becker said the $5.5 million is a “pie in the sky number right now.”

“There will have to be a lot of tweaks between now and then,” Becker explained.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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