Hays USD 489 is looking forward to the next steps now that its $143.5 million bond issue passed.

The bond passed Tuesday with a 53 percent approval from district voters. In addition, a question that would implement a half-cent city of Hays sales tax to help pay for the bond passed with 60 percent of  the voters marking yes.

"I think what this means, as we've looked at this whole process, people have said we want to invest in our kids, we want to invest in our educational staff, and we want to invest in our community," Hays Superintendent Ron Wilson said. "They said this is important and this is what needs to happen in the community of Hays."

The main project under the bond will be the construction of a new high school, which will include an auditorium. The bond will also renovate the current high school into a middle school and renovate the current middle school into an elementary school. Roosevelt and O'Loughlin elementary schools also will be renovated.

Lincoln Elementary School and Rockwell Administration Center will be closed. The Westside school program will be relocated.

Voter turnout in the special election was almost 38 percent with 6,024 voters casting ballots for the bond question. During the special bond election in 2016 only 27 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Wilson said he was extremely pleased with voter turnout.

"We said from the beginning that we always felt we had more support than opposition," he said. "As long as we could get those who supported to get out and vote, we could get this accomplished."

The city of Hays half-cent bond sales tax will take effect on Oct. 1. That tax will be in effect for 10 years. The new tax will increase the city tax rate from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.

The property tax will begin with the 2022-23 budget, which will be included on property tax statements received by patrons in November 2022. 

You can see an estimate of how much more you will be paying on your property tax bill on the USD 489 website. However, the exact tax amount will not be determined until the interest rate is locked in when the bonds are issued.

The district officials and the district's architectural firm, DLR, will be meeting with staff who work in the district's buildings to assess the specific needs of each school.

"They know better than anybody else because they are in the buildings," Chrisy Crough, USD 489 outreach coordinator, said. "They will have the input on that and they will work with the architects directly and they will go back and forth with the drawings."

Then the architects will enter the design phase for the projects.

Wilson said he hoped ground could be broken on the new high school by next spring. The district hopes to have the new high school completed by August 2024 with the remaining projects completed by fall 2025.

The new high school will be built just east of the current high school on land that is already owned by the school district.

Civil engineers will be taking surveys of the land in the near term and looking at possible electrical and water line placement.

Wilson said having the new high school and the middle school adjacent to each other will benefit students and staff at both schools.

"I think it opens so many doors that we currently don't have open because of the location of the high school/middle school," Wilson said. "Naturally, the big thing is that we are going to have an auditorium for our high school, as well as our middle school."

High school students could work with middle school students. Students from both schools will be able to share athletic facilities.

Middle school students will have access to the technical education facilities at the current high school. The middle school has been limited in the number of electives it can offer because of space constraints.

Traffic will increase on 13th Street and in the immediate area when the new school is built. Crough said the district will be working with the city and the Kansas Department of Transportation to do traffic studies and evaluate any changes that will need to be made in the road configuration in that area.

The entities can pursue grant money for improvements, Crough said.

The district also will be staggering start and release times at the middle school and high school to reduce traffic congestion.

New class sections will be added to both Roosevelt and O'Loughlin Elementary to accommodate the students who will be transferring from Wilson and Lincoln elementary schools.

Students will be evenly distributed among the remaining elementaries. Wilson said the district will continue to honor family choice for the district elementary schools.

The bond is going to allow the district to close its oldest buildings — Lincoln and Rockwell, which are both more than 90 years old. It will also help address many of the maintenance needs in the existing buildings.

Wilson said this will free up capital outlay funds for other projects in the district.

"We haven't had a lot of flexibility in our capital improvement budget, he said. "We have been spending dollars to keep the boat on the water and not have it sink."

Wilson said he is excited about what the bond will bring for the future of the district.

"We are really proud of what we do in USD 489, but with the passing of this bond, I think it is about how proud we can become ...  " Wilson said. "It is going to open some things that we have dealt with for a long, long time.

"It was a tough, tough process. It's been a lot of work, and a lot of dedicated, committed people in our community came together and rallied together to make this happen. I am appreciative and feel really blessed to have been a part of that."