Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a question that is not answered here, please reach out to one of our district leaders or member of the board of education.
Why was this option to combine PK-12 on one site chosen?
After reviewing a dozen potential solutions to solve the facilities’ challenges, the steering committee selected this solution for its practicality and ability to meet our needs.
This solution is safe. No students walk outside for classes. The entire building can be locked and both the elementary and high school can have secure entrances. The school can be closed off during activities, with a dedicated activities entrance. The renovation will include fire sprinklers as well as bring the facility up to code and be accessible for students, teachers and community members.
This solution is practical. Combining the schools allows the district to take advantage of economies of scale by sharing resources like the kitchen, cafeteria, media center and gyms. Thanks to careful planning, the two schools remain separate within a single building. The only time high school students would need to cross into the elementary would be on their way to the band room and auditorium.
The solution is forward-thinking. The new high school wing provides better circulation for high school students. It also allows bigger classrooms than other options and collaboration space for modern teaching methods. This space can be used by other organizations, like community colleges, to provide new learning opportunities in Decatur County.
The solution is one we can have pride in. Our high school’s historic north exterior is preserved, as is the beautiful auditorium and other architectural details of the building. At the same time, the updated learning spaces will enhance our ability to recruit teachers to town, and provide a safe, comfortable workspace for our current staff.
Are we adding a gym?
Our schools are not gaining an additional gym. The district currently has three gyms and all three are busy with little to no downtime. If the bond passes, it’s worth noting that the elementary school will lose its current gymnasium. That's why the approach includes replacing that gym.
Our school system will continue to have the current competition gymnasium, a practice gym, and gym for the elementary students. The practice gym will be part of the new construction and is an important aspect of having adequate instructional space for students.
What is the phasing plan?
One of the reasons this option was selected is that it provides minimal disruption to the students’ learning environment.
The new additions will be built first, including the high school wing, the activities entrance with cafeteria and shop classrooms. When those additions are complete, high school students can move into the new high school. After those students have vacated the original high school, work will begin to renovate that space—both the main floor and second level—into the new elementary school. Elementary students will move in when that phase is complete.
How will this plan address safety and security concerns?
Each school will have a secure vestibule located adjacent to administration, so that school visitors can check in before being allowed in the building. Additionally, all classes are within the school, so students won’t need to walk outside for classes or lunch. The school will have fire sprinklers as well as hardened space for a tornado shelter that is accessible for all students.
What will happen to the existing elementary school site?
The school district will have three years to consider options for repurposing or selling the existing elementary building. One of the most promising proposals is to use the kindergarten building for a future daycare center.
The building currently needs approximately $9.4 million in repairs to meet current codes. Even that amount of money wouldn’t alleviate all concerns, including the aged wood frame structure and site accessibility. USD 294 is keenly interested in finding a solution for the elementary school that will be in the best interest of the community. If a developer cannot be found for the property, an amount has been budgeted for demolition and removal so that the property does not become an ongoing maintenance expense for the district.
What really needs fixed in the Elementary School?
Wood interior walls and wood roof trusses complicate remodeling and pose a combustion threat. The Elementary School does not have a fire suppression system.
The exterior window and curtainwall components of the 1965 addition all need replaced along with all roofing. Despite repeated efforts from roofing and window experts, parts of the school have water leaks that can’t be repaired. In other areas, the windows leak air. The amount of money required to bring the school up to code is cost-prohibitive.
The campus is considerably undersized, which has created traffic safety concerns for students. All elementary students must walk across the bus lane/ truck unloading zone to get to the playground. Kindergarteners must walk outside and through this high-traffic area on their way to and from lunch.
Overall, the building lacks accessibility. Classroom bathrooms aren’t accessible, and the main bathrooms have only one accessible stall. The height of sinks and drinking fountains are not accessible for individuals using a wheelchair. The wheelchair lift does not meet current ADA requirements, and the gym and stage are not accessible.
Bats live in the ceiling of one classroom. Rehoming efforts have failed and the bats return.
What really needs fixed in the Junior/ Senior High School?
The district and facility assessment, available here, contains a comprehensive listing of issues and concerns. Just a few of these include:
Constituents of USD 294 got their money’s worth as most of the infrastructure and finishes have been in place for more than double their expected life spans. This is a testament to maintenance and the quality of construction. Unfortunately, the needs of the facility will continue to outpace the available maintenance money the school can generate through capital outlay budgets. Maintaining and cleaning the facilities requires considerably more manpower than a building with modern finishes and fixtures.
The classrooms in the 1938 building are small, noisy, and very uncomfortable. Hard surfaces and window air conditioner noise make teaching challenging. The curtain wall windows that have been covered made a haven for bats in some rooms creating a stink with their droppings.
The High School has code deficiencies, like an inadequate fire alarm system and no fire suppression system. The 1938 gymnasium does not have a second exit from the north or south bleachers. Some hallways exceed the maximum length with no exit creating a dead-end corridor. While the building is “grandfathered” from current code requirements, we are doing our students a disservice by not addressing safety concerns.
Did the District consider grants for a portion of this expense?
The district will pursue every available funding opportunity to reduce the bond amount, but that work has to happen after the community shows its support for the project and the bond passes. Any additional funding source can be used to pay off the bond earlier.
What is the ballot wording?
Shall Unified School District No. 294, Decatur County, Kansas (Oberlin), issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $29,150,000, to pay the costs to: (a) construct, furnish and equip improvements, additions and renovations to the existing Decatur Community High School to provide for a pre-K through 12th Grade facility; (b) demolish, to the extent necessary, the existing elementary school; and (c) make all other necessary improvements related thereto (collectively the “Project”), and to pay costs of issuance and interest on said general obligation bonds during construction of the Project; all pursuant to the provisions of K.S.A. 10-101 et seq., K.S.A. 25-2018(f), K.S.A. 72-5457, and K.S.A. 72-5458 et seq.?
When is the election and who can vote?
The election will be held Tuesday, August 29, 2023 and will be open to all registered voters in the USD 294 district. Early voting will begin August 9, 2023 at the County Courthouse. On election day, voters can cast their ballot at their typical precinct locations.
What is a school bond issue?
A bond is a state-approved funding process for a set scope of projects. When voters approve a bond, the school district sells bonds in the authorized amount and uses the proceeds of the sale to pay for those projects in the bond. In many ways, the bonding process is like a homeowner obtaining a mortgage and making payments over a period of years. School bond elections require a simple majority to pass (50 percent plus one).
Bond funds can only be used for constructing, equipping, maintaining and furnishing district facilities. This makes bond funds different from the district's operating funds that are used to pay salaries, textbooks and other day-to-day expenses. Bond funds can only be used for brick-and-mortar projects and cannot legally be used for anything else. This is an important distinction to remember. Bond funds and operational/salary funds are separate, and according to state law, these funds cannot be used interchangeably.
Can we increase the sales tax to reduce the burden on property taxes?
Oberlin City Council invited representatives of the school district to a special meeting in June to discuss the possibility of sharing a portion of sales tax revenue with the school district. The meeting was positive but no sales taxes are incorporated in the bond at this time.
What happens if we do nothing?
Failure to address our facility issues will result in further deterioration of the schools’ infrastructure as well as give our students a less-than-optimal educational environment. The needs of the facility will continue to outpace the available maintenance money the school can generate through capital outlay budgets.
Can't we just fix the systems like the boiler, electrical, plumbing, etc. for a lot less money?
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. Once we undertake a repair or replacement, we must bring everything within the area that we touch into compliance with all life safety codes.
Accessibility and code compliance are among our major concerns, and those require a well-thought-out plan to address.