A few not-so-stifled cheers went up Thursday, July 21 during the Platte County R-3 Board of Education meeting.
Members unanimously voted 6-0 with Lori Bogart to approve a memorandum of understanding for the district to engage in the sale of Rising Star Elementary and its land to the City of Platte City. Part of the agreement earmarks the $82,500 purchase price to go toward expanding R-3’s tennis court project from an initial phase of four courts to the full eight-court facility, which could be completed as early as the end of August.
The district must now initiate a change order to accommodate the additional construction that will take place adjacent to Siegrist Elementary, but approval of the memorandum appears to have given the Pirates’ tennis teams a true home facility with no need to wait for additional funding to become available.
Originally opened in 1954, Rising Star closed after this past school year, and the sale continues a relationship between two cooperative public entities. The city would become the priority user of the facility when the district was not utilizing it, allowing the chance to offer summer programming, lessons, partnerships with Platte County Community Center North or tournaments.
On Tuesday, July 26, the Platte City Board of Aldermen officially approved the memorandum, as well, bringing an end to a quickly evolving four months of discussions centered on tennis courts.
Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik announced the start of a four court campus tennis project in the spring with an indefinite timeline to finding additional funding sources to help expand the complex to the desired eight courts. The Platte County Tennis Court Committee, a grassroots group pushing for more courts now, made a presentation at the June board of education meeting, but policy prohibited the board from voting on an item brought from citizen participation, which led to some perceived frustrations.
District officials and community supporters met in an open forum the next week, which produced some occasionally contentious discussion.
However, both groups agreed to attend the July meeting of the Platte City Parks and Recreation Board, which scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, July 19 when they approved a $117,500 contribution to add two more courts to the initial phase of the project. Shortly after, Reik and Platte City city administrator DJ Gehrt ramped up talks in mutual interest of the Rising Star Elementary site and came up with a memorandum of understanding for sale of the building and its accompanying 6.9 acres located between Fourth and Second Street.
Platte County started its boys and girls tennis programs for the 2008-2009 school year as it moved from the Midland Empire Conference to the Suburban Conference.
Without true home facilities, the district used two dilapidated courts in disrepair on campus and also began renting two courts for designated practice time in the Seven Bridges subdivision at a cost of about $1,000 per year. Still, the setup required split practices, and home meets were either played on the road or at Oak Park High School, as the nearby school’s facilities were available.
This past spring, the R-3 school board approved plans to demolish the district’s two courts to put in a new parking lot, prompting Reik to initiate an initial phase to replace them with four new ones.
Grant funding, private donations and donated work/materials from contractors on site working on other projects allowed the district to announce the construction of four tennis courts, south of Siegrist Elementary. The district planned to use about $174,000 in non-tax revenue to fund the remainder of the first phase, expected to cost about $600,000 — up from initial estimates.
Reik repeatedly pledged support for getting the facility to eight courts, but he stressed the opportunity to continue leveraging future grant money to phase in the project. A push from the community asked for the project to be expanded to allow for better practice time and home meets immediately.
With the contribution from Platte City Parks and Recreation and the proceeds of the Rising Star sale, the district will pay approximately $40,000 more in addition to its initial commitment to complete the project, which has already started. Additional amenities, including lights and bleacher seating, would be added at a later date.
Reik said leveraging the contractors already on site combined with the potential of high estimates for the additional pieces of the project made using the change order process cost-effective. He also said there were no concerns with the purchase price of Rising Star Elementary.
The memorandum of understanding means the district and city will work in good faith to complete the sale. The initial language indicates the city would take the property as is, including the main building and adjacent trailer building. The school building will likely be demolished at the city’s cost with the district and city proposing to split the cost of removing any hazardous material.
The land has been hailed as optimal for continued public use with a new water park and additional gymnasium space mentioned as potential projects for the site. Rising Star sits on the south side of Highway 92 and sits adjacent to a current city building that houses municipal court and the parks and recreation offices.
“We knew that Rising Star property at some point — good, bad or indifferent — was probably going to be a city problem,” Gehrt said last week. “I’d rather it be a city opportunity.”
However, at least one citizen expressed concerns at the meeting for the funding.
Reik repeatedly pledged not to use tax revenue toward the tennis court project even as discussions of expansion developed. Kirby Holden pointed out during the public comment portion of last week’s board of education meeting that taxpayer money paid for the building so proceeds from that building should be qualified as tax revenue.
Holden and fellow district patron Janet Stark both spoke to the board concerning use of tax money during the meeting.
Speaking first, Holden centered his comments on the increase in salary and benefits the board approved for district employees later in the meeting. Team Platte County — a group made of R-3 administrators, teachers and staff — meet to come up with recommendations for changes to compensation, trying to meet the goal of attracting, retaining and developing a high quality staff.
Recommendations this year included an average increase in salary between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent for employees. Teachers’ base pay goes up $100 a year in addition to a vertical step on the salary scale. The classified salary increase included a one-time market adjustment for paraprofessionals and in-school suspension employees to a poor market comparison.
Holden pointed out that in 2015-16 Platte County’s average salary jumped to fourth in a list of comparison schools behind only Park Hill, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit but in front of Kearney, Liberty, Grain Valley and others.
Stark also questioned the increases pointing out the lack of Cost of Living Adjustment for other sectors this past year.
In addition, Stark asked the board to review a possible breach of protocol during the June meeting following the Platte County Tennis Court Committee’s initial presentation. The board began to move on when an audience member questioned what would happen next. Reik provided a clarification that no action could be taken due to the presentation’s place on the agenda and then took a few questions.
Stark noted that public comment should be limited to those who fill out the appropriate form prior to the meeting, asking to address the board. She asked the board to provide a response.