Tarps, trowels and hard hats will be common sights as Johnson County schoolchildren troop through open doors this week.
Because of bond issues approved by voters in recent years, the three largest districts will continue building programs designed to improve security, update aging facilities and create more classroom space.
“Construction is happening across the district,” said Shawnee Mission School District spokesperson Leigh Anne Neal. “If you drove past a school, you pretty much saw construction going on.”
Classes start Wednesday for most students in Shawnee Mission and Olathe and all students in Blue Valley. Gardner-Edgerton begins Thursday, Spring Hill next Tuesday and De Soto Aug. 19.
Though state legislators have struggled with funding for Kansas schools this year, local voters have been more united. The Shawnee Mission bond vote was approved by a large margin in January. Olathe voters OK’d a bond issue in 2013 and Blue Valley in 2012.
Olathe — a district that laid off 80 staff members and discontinued a Spanish class for elementary students as a result of state cuts — will nevertheless be able to keep working on the new Olathe West High School near Santa Fe Street and Hedge Lane because of the bond issue. Eighteen schools got upgrades for aging buildings, with some of the biggest work being a renovation at Northview Elementary, carpet replacement at Olathe North High School and gym and music room additions at middle schools.
The state funding change did not cause staff cutbacks at Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley. Shawnee Mission funding will remain at about the same level as last year and Blue Valley will dip into reserves to cover the extra costs of an enrollment increase, said officials at those two districts.
Shawnee Mission started many of its building projects this summer. Four elementary schools will be rebuilt. Ground will be broken Aug. 26 for the new Trailwood Elementary in Overland Park and Aug. 27 for Crestview Elementary in Mission.
Work on the Briarwood Elementary School rebuild in Overland Park will begin sometime in September and Rhein Benninghoven Elementary in Shawnee at a yet-to-be-determined date. The district has plans to rebuild a school in the Shawnee Mission West High School feeder area, but has not yet identified which one, Neal said.
The construction will mean big changes this year for students in Briarwood and Crestview. Both schools had to temporarily relocate students during construction. Briarwood students will meet this year at the Broadmoor Technical Center in Overland Park and Crestview students at the Arrowhead Administration building in Mission. Students at the other two schools being rebuilt will not have to move because work is taking place elsewhere on their grounds.
In Blue Valley, construction has begun on the district’s 23rd elementary school, near the intersection of 179th Street and Grant Street. That school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. Blue Valley High School students also will notice an eased parking situation since construction there has added about 250 new spaces, said deputy superintendent Mike Slagle.
Classroom size has also been increased at Overland Trail Elementary and the library has been remodeled to include a media center at Overland Trail Middle School, he said.
Security has been a big issue the past couple of years in all of the county’s school districts. Many of them have remodeled their buildings to include a more restrictive front entrance and more cameras. Olathe and Blue Valley completed security work on their buildings during the past year. Shawnee Mission will continue security-related construction this year with new entrances for Shawnee Mission North and South high schools as well as other schools that didn’t get done last year, said Neal.
Construction is a big part of school experience this year, but some other things are also changing. The Shawnee Mission district, for example, has dropped the fees for elementary level textbooks and all-day kindergarten. A preschool book fee of $20 also was eliminated. Textbook rental fees of $80 will still be charged for grades 7-12, however. The fee for all-day kindergarten had been $2,430.
Most schools in the area have added more technology as well. Olathe and Shawnee Mission continued with a program that puts electronic devices in the hands of more students. Olathe, which provided an iPad for every two students in elementary grades last year, will launch a program this year in which every middle school student will be able to take home an iPad for school work.
“It’s another instructional tool that continues to up the ante and really matches the world they’re living in,” said Erin Dugan, assistant superintendent for general administration. “The excitement of the staff and the students is palpable.”
The one-to-one program, as it is called, also will be fully implemented in the Shawnee Mission district this year, Neal said. The 23 elementary schools that did not get iPads last year will receive them this year. Middle school students will get laptops instead of iPads because the keyboards and programs on laptops are more conducive to the longer format writing done at that age, she said.
Blue Valley isn’t doing the one-to-one program, but has added laptops, iPads and software available to students and has doubled its Internet speed, Slagle said.
Shawnee Mission will also introduce Project Lead The Way, a hands-on science, math and technology problem-solving curriculum, to more schools this year, Neal said.