The Platte County R-3 Board of Education considered and unanimously approved three major purchases during its regular meeting Thursday, April 21, while tentatively authorizing a fourth pending budget discussions.
Platte County High School will install new synthetic turf at Pirate Stadium, a project slated to start in late May and finish in late July. In addition, more than $600,000 of new furniture will be bought to go into the brand-new Compass Elementary and to equip Paxton Elementary as part of its annexation into the high school for the upcoming school year.
The district also plans to purchase two new buses to upgrade its fleet, while the board gave the go-ahead to look at the purchase of 470 Google Chromebook tablets for staff and the lease of 1,200 more. This would start the process of “one-to-one” implementation for technology devices in the district, beginning with the high school and potentially growing to include more.
The Chromebook expenditure will be dependent on upcoming budget plans, which will seek to fund the $200,000-plus purchase of staff tablets and the annual lease cost of about $175,000.
“This is proposed to you guys only as an approval of the vendor and price for the quantity,” said Robert Hedgecorth, Platte County’s outgoing director of technology and facilities. “To do all the planning we have to do, to make sure we get those delivered at the right time, we kind of have to have this queued up and ready to go so that when the budget would be approved we could make the order. They would come in on time, get them configured, get them all ready to roll for the students in the fall.”
The turf project comes after the current playing surface failed an annual test associated with its ability to protect against head injuries.
Installed in 2005, the turf at Pirate Stadium has outlasted its warranty by three years, and Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik concluded that the savings from its installation have been realized. Previously, Pirate Stadium had a natural grass surface, but Platte County with help from a donation from Pepsi Co. became one of the first schools in the Kansas City area to go synthetic to save on maintenance costs and to increase its use.
Pirate Stadium hosts band practices and performances and football and soccer games in addition to other athletic and community events, some of which generate revenue for the school through rental fees.
Manning Construction helped bid the project and recommended the approval of Midwest Synthetic Professional Turf’s proposal. The company submitted two different estimates based on different types of “plastic grass” available, and the board unanimously voted to approve Midwest’s slightly higher bid of $456,000 — a difference of about $7,000 from the lower bid — due to a preferred material.
FieldTurf submitted a lower bid at just more than $434,000, but officials rejected it do to perceived issues. Daniel Foye of Manning Construction reported FieldTurf’s bid did not include the quality of plastic grass specified and conversations with officials from the company included unsatisfactory answers to questions about quality and durability.
The district estimates to save between $40,000 and $50,000 per year in maintenance, and the gravel base and drainage system remains usable and will not have to be upgraded. District officials also noticed that the cost of removing that base and system to make a return to natural grass would be a much higher cost in addition to the maintenance that would be required.
“(Installing the turf) was a winning proposition in terms of investment,” Reik said. “We will do some minor repairs to the base system, but this is really just replacing the grass and the in-fill. That cost is much less than doing a natural grass surface to an artificial surface project.
“We expect to get 10 more years out of it again. It’s cost neutral, except the use on artificial turf cannot even be compared with the minimal use you get out of a natural grass surface.”
The updated playing surface will include minor changes.
Previously unknown, orange fibers in the material break down faster than others so the orange end zones will be scrapped in favor of black ones with orange lettering and white outlines. Orange will still be used as an accent color, including a 50-yard block on the home sideline that will contain the words “Platte County” in black with white outlines.
The logo at the middle of the field will also be updated, and in keeping with a current trend, alternating colors of green will be used every 5 yards.
The removal of the old surface will begin following the last scheduled home soccer event of the season. Foye said it should be completed by July 22 with the school not needing to use it until July 29, giving a week buffer in case the project runs long.
Upgrades will also include adding electrical outlets and direct access to water, work that the district might be able to complete in house to save on the cost.
“We are dealing with lower costs because we’re not replacing the whole dang thing,” Reik said. “The maintenance savings alone justify the cost.”
The Chromebook purchases/lease agreement would be on a three-year contract, pending available money in the budget.
Board member Gary Brown questioned the idea of using the tablets and digital textbooks vs. actual textbooks. Reik responded that students simply have begun to learn in a different matter, and there’s no plan to make a complete switch, even at the high school level, at this time.
However, Reik believes a certain point will be reached when a cost analysis will need to be done to see if the change would be beneficial to students.
“At some point, we have to selectively abandon some things we can’t afford to do or that we can do more cost effectively in a digital environment,” Reik said. “It’s way scarier for parents than it is for kids, and it will become increasingly less scary for kids. There are still kids out there that feel the same way we do.”
The district hopes to come up with the $400,000 initial cost for the upcoming budget.
Other districts have increased taxes in an attempt to put a digital device in each student’s hands with mixed results. Park Hill’s initiative to expand a similar program recently ended with a failed tax levy that has forced the district to consider other alternatives.
This type of movement helps reduce the need for computer labs and other hardware costs that can be saved to offset the cost.
“We do have a plan, a long-range budget plan, that we are trying to execute to create the desired results,” Reik said. “It’s just a different approach to providing hardware to students.”
Platte County chose the Chromebooks in a trial of three different devices conducted last year.
Currently, high school staff members have already been working with the tablets in an effort to prepare for their utilization with students. The new purchases would supply a Chromebook to staff third through eighth grades in an effort to prepare them for the budgeted expansion of one-to-one technology in the coming years.
Each student would be assigned a tablet that would be checked in at the end of each year. Students would receive the same device back the following year as applicable.
A $40 per year fee for insurance coverage would be required for each student, who would also be responsible for the deductible for replacement or damage repairs. The district plans to look at options to help those who might not be able to afford the insurance, including small payment plans that could be made throughout the course of the school year.
Insurance must be paid for the student to take the device home.
“A student is not going to without,” Platte County High School principal Dr. Chad Sayre said. “We usually get creative and find ways to make it happen because we do it every day already.”
The furniture budgets for Paxton’s renovation, which coincides with the building’s annex into the high school, and Compass’s construction actually came in well under budget. The district will spend about $430,000 for Compass’s furnishings and about $130,000 for Paxton, which will add unique large classrooms and student-teacher “office space.”
Compass’s approved bids were about $200,000 under budget, while Paxton’s were about $50,000 under.
“That’s how good the bids came in,”Hedgecorth said.
The board also unanimously approved the purchase of two buses, totaling just more than $160,000, which factors in trade-in value of two vehicles currently in the fleet.
In a report submitted to the board, both buses leaving the fleet were older with high mileage along with minor deficiencies. The two new buses will be 77-passenger 2017 models that will be available to the district in August.