When it comes to facilities, USD 443 Board members aren’t yet taking action, but they are planning for what lies ahead.
In what Superintendent Alan Cunningham describes as a series of “brainstorming” measures, those in charge of budgeting the school district’s separate projects are taking steps to consolidate what can be seen as a complex array of costly yet necessary future improvements for the district.
When it comes to facilities, USD 443 Board members aren’t yet taking action, but they are planning for what lies ahead. In what Superintendent Alan Cunningham describes as a series of “brainstorming” measures, those in charge of budgeting the school district’s separate projects are taking steps to consolidate what can be seen as a complex array of costly yet necessary future improvements for the district. “We have worked with our Board, we’ve had two sessions where we’ve talked about facilities planning and we think it’s very prudent to look at what are current needs are as well as project what our future needs may be in order to provide information to the Board or future Board as well as the current and future administration of the school district,” Cunningham said. “My goal is to just have everything in one place that a board or administration might look at when they need to see the big picture in a school district our size.” Like many other school districts, USD 443 faces the challenge of decreased funding for programs and services. The district has seen a potential loss in funding of five million dollars over the course of the last five years. But unlike most school districts in Kansas, USD 443 also faces the challenge of increased enrollment. Going as far back as 1992 the district has seen an average yearly increase of 100 students. Kindergarten, first and second grade enrollments are over 500 students, which will present further strains on facilities as these students progress through the school system. Dodge City High School currently supports nearly 1,800 students. When it was first built in 2001, it was designed for 1,500. Despite strains on its facilities, the school system is holding up, at least for now. And that raises the question: what components will need to be replaced, and when? “We’re in OK shape for the present time but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to say that three or five years from now,” Cunningham said. “So in order to plan we wanted to put together a comprehensive list of everything that could be needed or could be changed depending on what happens with enrollment.” Aside from the challenge of increasingly crowded classrooms, there is also the issue of regular maintenance items. The heating and air conditioning systems at Soule Elementary School, for instance, are approaching their 20th year of use. “You pretty much need to plan a replacement cycle for those systems as well as things like parking lots and school buses, and you need to be prepared and not wait until it happens,” Cunningham said. Although the Board isn’t currently spending tax payer money on school expansion, it is looking at ways it might approach the challenge of its growing student population in the future. At its current growth rate the elementary schools will need additional classroom space. With its additional classrooms available, Soule Elementary is a strong contender for the placement of additional students over the next two to three years. But it is the only elementary school in the system with additional space. After those are filled, the option changes to building another elementary school or, more preferably, adding classrooms to existing schools. With that, however, come the questions of how much property is available and how many students live in proximity. As for the high school, Cunningham says the school should be able to continue for another three to five years without any major additions. For now, USD 443 schools are doing the best they can with what they have. At Northwest, Central and Miller elementary schools the gym is also used as a cafeteria, presenting difficulties for gym class schedules. Not to mention Memorial Stadium, which has been talked of as a candidate for upgraded restrooms and locker facilities. In wake of these challenges, the Board is preparing for the time when they must be met. “We’ve still been able to take care of the usual maintenance items but if we were to get hit with a big ticket item that’s probably something we don’t have in the budget right now, so we have to plan for that” Cunningham said.