Renovating or remodeling the Vo-Ag building at Abilene High School is the first priority when it comes to finishing work that was left undone during the 2014 school improvement project.
A task force comprised of three board members — Jeff Bathurst, Kyle Becker and Chris West — and Superintendent Greg Brown made that determination after several meetings this past month and hearing from some members of the public.
“The Vo-Ag building rose to the top as far as priority,” Bathurst said.
Back in April 2014, USD 435 district patrons approved a $24.2 million bond issue to improve district schools. The project included the construction of Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School which was Abilene’s newest school in 40 years, adding a new addition at Abilene High School and renovating existing areas, a new addition and renovations at Abilene Middle School and remodeling and renovations at Kennedy and McKinley elementaries.
The project also was supposed to include renovating the Vo-Ag building, making upgrades at the football field and making changes at the district’s bus barn. However, 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. Now, with a new superintendent at the helm, the board is ready to begin.
Although plans for the Vo-Ag building have not yet been determined, Bathurst said it would include moving areas around in the building, looking at classroom needs. “The greenhouse fits in that, too,” he said.
Of the three projects, the bus barn is the lowest priority. “We’re getting by with where it’s at,” Bathurst said. “We’re more interested in pursuing other things like what to do with Cowboy Stadium. What would the football stadium look like? What are the possibilities there?
“We’re looking for community feedback in those areas and business feedback as far as the Vo-Ag building and needs,” he added.
Other athletic facilities ‘nicer’
West said the most public feedback he received concerned the Vo-Ag building and athletic facilities. Especially since many league schools have newer spaces.
“Concordia and Wamego, of course, have really nice facilities. A lot of (Abilene) parents are going to those, playing football with their younger Junior Cowboys (competitive team for elementary students) and they’re saying ‘Wow, we’re so far behind’.
“I hear they’re amazing facilities and of course it costs a lot of money,” West added.
Becker said the current football stadium, which also is used for track and field, has many issues including restrooms and problems with the 1930s-era stadium itself.
“I think we’ll need to start figuring out what the actual cost of everything associated with that would be,” Becker said.
Board Member Randy Gassman asked task force members about the next step.
“Are we thinking about contacting architects yet or anything like that?” Gassman asked.
Superintendent Brown said most of the contact with architects has been an “extension of what was started previously (during the 2014 bond).”
He reminded the board that earlier in the meeting, as part of the consent agenda, they approved selling automobiles that were left in the now-unused automotive class shop.
AHS was unable to offer automotive classes this year when an instructor could not be found. Interested students are now transported to Salina Area Technical College where they take classes.
“With the shop (vo-ag) building being the top priority right now, in the near future we’ll bring the teachers together and see what they see as the needs for that facility in terms of getting it ready to go for next fall,” Brown said.
As for the short term, Brown said the auto shop will be cleared out and the board will be asked during an upcoming meeting to approve a sale bill of items no longer being used.
West said the task force is hoping to have some plans in place by December.
“So it will start moving and we’re not talking on it over and over,” he said.
Becker agreed, noting that by December they hope to have ideas on how to move forward so something can be done on the vo-ag building before the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.