BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
Ordinarily, students and teachers in Baxter Springs might have been happy to have a few snow days tacked on at the end of their Christmas break.
But not this Christmas. They had brand-new school buildings waiting to be used.
After snow days on Monday and Tuesday, they finally got their chance on Wednesday.
“It’s been a very exciting day,” said Jason Walker, middle school principal. “There was a buzz in the air. We literally couldn’t wait to get in here.”
After rejecting two previous bond issues to build new schools, voters in 2012 approved an $8 million bond issue that included the 18,000-square-foot middle school addition, built immediately to the south of Baxter Springs High School and connected to it via an atrium.
It also included a 10,300-square-foot cafeteria and sixth-grade addition at Central Elementary, where students also began classes on Wednesday, and a 4,000-square-foot kindergarten wing being built at Lincoln Elementary.
All three projects include storm shelters built to Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications.
“After the Joplin tornado, we knew right off we had to protect our kids,” said Bob Hall, a Board of Education member, lifelong resident and parent of three Baxter Springs students, after a groundbreaking ceremony last fall.
Middle school technology teacher Charles Rector said Wednesday afternoon that the safety feature of the new school was a “good feeling.”
“Taking cover on the first floor of the old middle school never felt that safe,” he said.
He also teaches at the high school, and he found it convenient to now be at one location. Because of the proximity, middle school students also have access to the high school’s cafeteria, gymnasium, auditorium, track and library, which was a financial bonus for the district.
Walker noted that the students have a great deal of ownership in the new school because they helped to move everything into it before the district’s Christmas break.
“They were great,” he said. “We had allotted two days for moving, and the kids got it done in two and a half hours.”
Teachers worked over the break and on the snow days to get their classrooms organized down to the last detail.
Wednesday was not without a bittersweet moment, however: The seventh- and eighth-graders were bused back to their old building for a closing ceremony in which numerous past administrators took part. Walker presented Bud Johnson, a former principal, with the key, and he locked the door for the last time.
“It was a moment that gave me some chills,” Walker said.
The Board of Education sold the middle school building to Prairie Fire LLC of Olathe, which plans to refit the building for senior citizens’ apartments.
In Galena, $7.5 million in school expansions are under way. They include hardened space for use as storm safe rooms.
The project includes a new high school gymnasium with locker rooms, a concession area, a fitness room and a walking track that will be open to the community. Bleachers with seat backs will provide space for 1,300 people. The current gym seats 800.
The project also includes additional classroom space at Spring Grove Primary Center.
Galena Superintendent Brian Smith said crews poured the foundation this week at the high school, and they have fully blocked in the addition at Spring Grove.
“Spring Grove will be done before storm season, and we’re excited about that,” Smith said. “I hope it’s early March. At the high school, I expect that to move very quickly once they get going. We expect to have that done by the beginning of the next school year.
“Overall, I think everything is going really well.”
AFTER BAXTER SPRINGS seventh- and eighth-graders and staff members arrived Wednesday at the middle school to a welcome of balloons and a banner, the day went off without a hitch, but it was far from an ordinary day. It’s been more than 38 years since the town has seen a new school building constructed.