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‘Back to school’ has special meaning in Johnson County districts

It’s a busy time for construction among the school districts across Johnson County. Those projects include the new Olathe West High School being built at Santa Fe Street and Hedge Lane. When completed in the fall of 2017, it’ll be the Olathe district’s fifth high school.
It’s a busy time for construction among the school districts across Johnson County. Those projects include the new Olathe West High School being built at Santa Fe Street and Hedge Lane. When completed in the fall of 2017, it’ll be the Olathe district’s fifth high school. Special to The Star

Resurfaced athletic fields, new kitchens, administrative buildings and upgrades in classroom technology. The summer has been busy for school construction.

When students returned to every Johnson County school district this month, they found all sorts of new enhancements. One district put the final touches on an expanded high school. Others made changes to accommodate technology, renovating existing space — or simply doing maintenance on what they’ve already got.

Then there’s the planning.

Lenexa is the site of two big hopes for the Shawnee Mission School District — an aquatics center and a possible new elementary school. In Olathe, officials are planning a new middle school. In the Gardner Edgerton district, they’re adding buildings for technical and mechanics training and life skills for adults with disabilities.

Building and maintenance projects at Johnson County schools haven’t been affected by the high-profile disputes over state funding because they don’t come from the same revenue source. Instead of the state aid formula, residents owe the new buildings to their own willingness to approve bond issues when they have come up in recent elections.

“It’s exciting and a story we’re trying to tell every time,” about where the bond money is going, said Kenny Southwick, deputy superintendent of Shawnee Mission schools.

The following is a rundown of what’s going on in the school districts of Johnson County at the start of the school year.

Shawnee Mission

The $223 million bond issue approved in January 2015 is still rippling through the Shawnee Mission district, as work continues on building five elementary schools.

The idea was to redo an elementary school in each of the five high school feeder areas, said Southwick. In most cases, that involved tearing down an existing building and erecting a new one on the same parcel of land.

Two of those elementary schools — Trailwood and Briarwood — are close to completion. Barring unexpected problems, the move-in for those schools should take place during winter break, he said.

Crestview Elementary should be ready in time for a spring break move-in by late March. The Rhein Benninghoven Elementary School is also preparing for opening in the fall of 2017.

The fifth school is more of a question mark.

Officials have been searching for land to build a new school on the district’s western edge, and last week announced plans to pay about $1.84 million for 25 acres on the northwest corner of 87th Street Parkway and Haven Street. The elementary school will feed into Shawnee Mission West.

The western school has been talked about for months, but land is hard to come by. “Land is at a premium across the Shawnee Mission district,” said district spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal.

There is no timetable for construction, though Southwick said work could begin in 2017.

Meantime, the district is in the design phase of a new aquatics center planned for the Lenexa City Center area.

The center, at 45,000 to 50,000 square feet, will be large enough to host bigger swim meets and perhaps provide a spot for swimming lessons for elementary school children. The district’s five high schools have practice pools, but nothing large enough for regional swim meets, Neal said.

The district is considering a two-pool center, but the design is not yet final. The facility would cost $16 million to $18 million and construction could begin early next year.

One of the more visible changes at Shawnee Mission schools this year is the addition of synthetic turf to athletic fields.

Four of the five middle schools along with Shawnee Mission South High School are getting new fields. The turf and Shawnee Mission North’s existing field is being resurfaced. The four middle schools are Trailridge, Indian Hills, Hocker Grove and Indian Woods.

The new middle school fields will give some flexibility for more sports and physical education activities in the future, said Bob Robinson, executive director of facilities and support services for the district.

Before 2014, middle schools offered intramurals, but that has changed. For the past two years, the district has offered interschool play at middle-school level. The synthetic turf will support that, plus physical education classes and other activities.

The grass high school fields are beginning to show their age at 10 to 12 years old as well. Increasing demand on the fields is hard on the grass, so the district will eventually replace them with synthetic turf.

The administrative offices are not being left out of the building push.

Next spring, the district will open a new Center for Academic Achievement building on the site of the former Antioch Middle School at 8200 W. 71st St. in Overland Park.

The $33 million center, which was not part of the bond issue, will serve a variety of purposes. There will be collaborative spaces for the district’s Signature Programs, including biotechnology, cultural arts and medical health science. In addition, the center will put administrative offices, which had been scattered through three different buildings, into one space, reducing the administrative footprint, Neal said.

The Howard D. McEachen administrative building on Antioch Road has been sold and is set to close this fall.

In addition, Shawnee Mission spent money on roofing and other maintenance projects, and added production kitchen space. Tomahawk Elementary school opened with a full kitchen this year, the fifth to be redone. Eventually the district plans to have full kitchens in all of its schools, Neal said.

All the construction is a big deal, Southwick said. But school needs will continue as the county changes.

“Although the recent bond issue allowed the district to tackle many identified needs, our work will never be finished,” he said. The district will always have to keep up its buildings as they age.


Two big new projects are in the works for the Olathe School District — a new Olathe West High School and the area’s tenth middle school.

A 2013 bond issue provided $244.8 million for various school building projects. Growth of the district made the schools necessary, said John Hutchison, chief financial and operations officer for the district.

Olathe schools have been growing every year since 1965 and are up by 200 students for the 2016-17 school year.

The new high school, located at Santa Fe Street and Hedge Lane, is the district’s fifth high school and has been under construction since 2014. The exterior shell is up on the building, which will cost about $75 million excluding furniture.

It’s set to open in the fall of 2017, with students coming from the northwest and west areas.

Middle school number 10 is still in the planning stages.

The exact location hasn’t been fixed, but it will be in the area near 119th Street and Kansas 7, Hutchison said. The school is expected to open for the 2018-19 year.

Meanwhile some space was reconfigured in Mission Trail Middle School to create more room for classrooms. “We closed some pods that were open gathering spaces now and separated them with glass walls” to add classroom space, he said.

Olathe will also do a major remodel of its Mill Creek Center in downtown Olathe. The Mill Creek Center is home to a variety of special programs for adult learners and alternative education. The remodeling work will mean some programs will be temporarily relocated once demolition of the interior begins, Hutchison said.

The Mill Creek Center is a former high school that dates to the 1920s. The work should be finished about halfway through the 2017-18 school year.

With Olathe’s enrollment continuing to grow, the district is also looking down the road, Hutchison said. “We continue to watch the western portion of our district and anticipate the need for our 36th elementary school in the next three to five years.”

Blue Valley

Most of the work in Blue Valley School District this year deals with maintenance and improvement of existing facilities, said Becky Miller, district spokeswoman. One of the biggest of those projects is the renovation and technology upgrades at Harmony Middle School’s Library Media Center.

Space at the center will be more flexible to accommodate small or large groups as well as traditional classrooms. The floor plan opens into the school’s common area. The project cost for the center, plus other maintenance work at Harmony Middle School, is about $6.8 million and is funded by a 2012 bond issue.

Construction is also continuing on the district’s 23rd elementary school, at 179th and Grant Streets. The board of education has yet to set an opening date for that school, which was projected to be open the fall of 2017.

De Soto

An expanded De Soto High School greeted students when classes began Aug. 16.

Construction this year added 48,500 square feet of space, completing a three-phase project funded by a 2008 bond issue. It brought student capacity from 830 before the latest project began to 1,200, said Alvie Cater, district spokesman.

Although it’s been a long time in the making, the extended three-phase building plan was “a benefit because the bonds were sold in chunks. That way the tax rate was controlled for a lower mill levy,” he said.

Gardner Edgerton

New facilities for technical training and adults with disabilities are in progress in the Gardner Edgerton district, as well as a major expansion of the high school.

A $29.7 million bond approved last February will pay for two detached buildings on the high school grounds. The new Advanced Technical Center of about 30,000 square feet will provide space for training on auto painting and body work, drafting and mechanics for students in the building trades classes, said Bruce Kracl, director of operations for the district.

The $7 million building extends the offerings so high school students can be certified in some areas, he said.

Construction starts in September on a smaller facility for adults with disabilities, Kracl said.

The building of about 1,600 square feet will be available for students who have completed high school but need some help transitioning to independent living. Students will learn life skills, including apartment maintenance and kitchen skills, Kracl said. The district expects about 18 to 20 students using the building daily.

Work is also starting on a big addition to the high school. The first phase of the $12.2 million project will add a two-story wing to Gardner Edgerton High School with 18 classrooms and space for a new band room.