BOE opens door for pool

Chad Frey
The Newton USD 373 Board of Education approved an agreement Monday that opened the door for the construction of a new city pool using the Public Building Commission as a bonding entity for the project.

An effort to construct a new municipal pool took a huge leap forward Monday at the Newton Unified School District 373 Board of Education meeting.

A motion by Andy Ortiz, seconded by Angela Becker, passed 4-2 to approve a new agreement to extend an agreement between the board of education, City of Newton and the Newton Recreation Commission to fund the Public Building Commission.

That agreement contained language to increase mill levy contributions to 1 mill for each organization, up from 0.8 mills in the current agreement.

That agreement opens the doors for a new city pool to be constructed, and the reconfiguration of Centennial Park to add baseball and softball diamonds to the park.

Two weeks ago, several members of the board of education expressed an unwillingness to raise the mill levy for the public building commission by 0.2 mills to 1.0 mills — and singled out the pool project during that conversation.

Matt Treaster and Mallory Morton voted Monday against the revised agreement. Luke Edwards recused himself during the discussion and vote.

“I voted no, but that is about the PBC, but only how the school district would fund that. I am excited to move forward and finally check this off for our community, I feel like we have been doing this for a long time,“ Morton said. ”I am excited to work together and I think we really have a good, community-wide working relationship.“

Since 2004, the school district portion of tax levies to support the public building commission have been paid by the Newton Recreation Commission — the NRC has levied 1.6 mills, rather than 0.8 mills, in order for the school district to not dedicate a portion of its own mill levy to the PBC.

The Public Building Commission was created in 2004 to fund improvements and ongoing turf replacements to Fischer Field in Athletic Park. It has funded improvements to nearly every park facility in the city.

Discussion of pool renovations, maintenance and possible replacement of the facility began in 2017, when members of the recreation commission expressed fear that equipment failure could lead to the closure of the facility.

In 2018, possible projects were placed on hold as the city commission voted for a survey of residents to help set priorities.

City staff announced this year that the pool can’t reopen next year — equipment is simply worn out. This fall, the city commission authorized entering into a design/build agreement with Dondlinger Construction. The new facility, which will retain the current bathhouse in Athletic Park, is currently being designed. The project was delayed two weeks as the city sought approval of a new PBC agreement from the board of education.

“I think we can accomplish some pretty phenomenal things by collaborating as a community,“ said Mayor Leroy Koehn.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the “yellow” learning mode through Nov. 13. Under yellow, grades pre-K through six are in school buildings every day while eighth through 12th grades are in hybrid learning.

• Approved adding courses to Railer Academy.

• Due to vacancies prompted by COVID-19, USD 373 is experiencing “a significant decline in qualified applicants,” according to district administration. The board approved creation of a hiring incentive for qualified employees in targeted roles for the remainder of the school year.

• Approved moving Cooper preschool students to in school every day through an orange mode of learning.

• Accepted three gifts of $750 from Strawbridge Studios Inc. for signing bonuses on behalf of South Breeze Elementary, Walton Rural Life Center and Santa Fe 5/6 Center.

• Accepted a gift of $1,000 from South Central Kansas Library Service on behalf of Newton High School.

• Accepted a gift of $250 from Kroger for gift cards on behalf of Parents as Teachers.

• Accepted a gift of $50 from Janel Rogers for gift cards on behalf of Northridge Elementary.

• Voted against remaining a member of the Schools For Fair Funding organization.