The New Junction City High School: A Boon for the Community and Geary County Workforce
Friday, August 20, 2021
The doors of the new Junction City High School will swing wide-open for students on August 25, 2021. The 437,000 square-foot state-of-the-art high school is located on the west side of Junction City, Kansas, along the north side of K-18 Highway, and is the culmination of years of planning and perseverance.
“The old high school was at the end of its functional life,” said David Wild, Geary County Schools Unified School District 475 Chief Operations Officer. “The Board of Education commissioned a needs assessment to determine the feasibility of renovating that school. Plumbing, electrical, space, flooring, ceilings, heating and cooling, plus wall systems all required replacement and upgrades Through that process, it was deemed impractical to remodel. The Board placed a bond initiative for a new school on a new location to public vote, which was approved in November 2017.”
That approved bond was for $105 million, but by the time the bid was out in 2019, the Consumer Price Index adjusted the cost to build the facility from $105 million to $123 million. As reported in the JC Post, USD 475 recently pursued interest savings on the debt. Following recent market conditions in favor of refinancing goals set by the Geary County Schools USD 475 Board of Education, the District acted to refinance and lock in new rates for the new Junction City High School bond debt that will result in an interest savings of $10.9 million.
According to Wild, the District has no need to raise the local mill levy on its taxpayers. “The affordability of this project is being made possible by Heavily Impacted Aid from the Department of the Army. Upon qualification for these funds, the District placed $67 million in escrow. Those funds, and the interest earned, will pay 43 percent of the bond; local taxpayer contribution is close to 10 percent, and State matching funds make up the balance of payments due.”
“The USD 475 high school is the flagship for the District,” said Wild. “It is already drawing national attention for its design and academic structure that supports four academies including a freshman academy, science, business, and fine arts. The school offers 14 professional and vocational career pathways. Its unique curriculum is expected to be a draw for industry and economic development as it will provide a job-ready workforce or serve as a preparatory platform for advanced studies.”
Each career academy — Freshman Success Academy; Fine Arts and Human Services Academy; Business, Public Service and Hospitality Academy; and Science Engineering and Health Academy — has a separate wing that reflects the specific needs for that subject. Additional features of the new school include an orchestra room, enhanced audio visual systems, an art room, and a fitness room. The orchestra room will also serve as a storm shelter.
“The linear school layout supports its academy structure,” said Wild. “It has academy centric academic classrooms on the south side of its main corridor with labs and shops located on the north side. The school provides the latest in information technology across the facility. It is located on a 159-acre site that also supports new athletic facilities. It is near Junction City Middle school with Kansas Highway 18 separating the two properties.”
Junction City is a Great American Defense Community because of its support of Fort Riley, a relationship that is symbiotic. With five schools located on Fort Riley, over 50 percent of the student population of Geary County Schools USD 475 is military-affiliated, enabling many benefits for the district and its students.
“In April 2021, USD 475 received Department of Defense matching funds to construct a new grade school on Fort Riley,” said Wild. “This new school is scheduled for completion in 2023 and will provide Fort Riley with its fourth new school in the last 10 years. Soldiers now have options when it comes to where they may be assigned. The strength of USD 475 and its facilities are already proving to be a magnet for soldiers with dependent children. Providing soldiers with a strong support network, including schools, is important to soldier retention. It benefits the Army, its families, and ultimately the State of Kansas.”
According to Wild, the Department of the Army announced that USD 475 was the only District supporting 24 army installations that kept its schools open throughout the last academic year during the pandemic.
USD 475 accomplished this by devising and implementing a successful virus mitigation plan that they will continue and improve for the 2021-2022 school year, according to Wild. Protocols included enhanced cleaning, dividing students into cohort groups, dining in classrooms, District-led contact tracing, and a virus testing program. Ventilation system upgrades allow a daily purge and replenishment of indoor air.
The construction of Junction City High School had a succession of delays from the beginning, with the pandemic providing a slowdown as completion was in sight. Wild said the ability to even open the school is remarkable and credits the hard work of the Hutton Construction team. The District will hold a formal ribbon cutting later in the fall.