By SUSAN BERG
USD 410 was ready to talk Friday morning when a press conference was called by the school district regarding the recent lawsuit which caused delays in proposed projects.
The school district/Tabor College collaboration started as a positive project for the entire Hillsboro community and school district.
School district patrons approved a bond in June 2007, to pay for a new athletic field, additions to Hillsboro High School and Hillsboro Elementary School, a central office and transportation building, and much-needed renovations to the school facilities.
The partnership between the school district and Tabor College for a new athletic facility made sense. Why duplicate efforts with two football fields and two tracks when collaboration could result in a quality facility for both entities to use?
Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.
On June 4, 2007, a day before the school bond election, a lawsuit was filed by a taxpayer who did not agree that public money should be spent in a partnership with a private, Christian college.
As part of the $6.6 million bond issue, $2,016,541 was to be spent for the construction of a new athletic field on Tabor College campus. Tabor College had committed to contributing $2,016,541 toward the project.
According to court documents, the lawsuit contended that the bond election notice did not disclose that Tabor College eventually would own the athletic facility.
On Aug. 19, the court ruled in favor of USD 410. However, an appeal was filed which could take another year to be resolved.
So, what’s happening in the meantime?
Construction costs continue to increase. With the delay, the proposed project could cost an additional 20 percent or $800,000, superintendent Doug Huxman said.
“We can only commit $2.2 million with bond proceeds. The remaining project costs will have to come from other sources,” Huxman said.
The purchasing power has diminished. The project is being re-evaluated by architects.
To date, USD 410 has paid nearly $80,000 in attorney’s fees. The school district’s liability insurance has covered nearly half of the costs, leaving nearly $38,000 for the school district to cover.
“We would rather have spent the money on the students than legal fees,” Huxman said.
In addition to the financial woes caused by the lawsuit, there are facility issues.
With the continued deterioration of the track at the college, the high school track team will have to host its home meet at Bethel College.
But Huxman and USD 410 board president Rod Koons made it clear during the meeting that they held no ill will toward Raymond Brandt and the lawsuit but wanted to continue to move forward.
“We still believe that this project is for the good of the community,” Huxman said.
The spirit of cooperation is alive and well.
Tabor College recently replaced lights at the athletic field even though the college only had one night game which was changed to an afternoon.
“The lights were replaced so HHS could play four evening games,” Koons said.
The school district and the college each purchased a set of portable bleachers to accommodate larger crowds.
Another example of continued cooperation was the college using the high school’s auditorium for its musicals.
The concept of a joint venture between the two entities was first discussed in passing between former school superintendent Gordon Mohn and former Tabor College President Larry Nikkel.
The idea was approved by the school board and then sent for review.
“As with all of our projects, it went to legal counsel at KASB (Kansas Association of School Boards) and Kansas Department of Education,” Koons said. “The concept was unique but it conformed to the law. It was thoroughly checked.”
The school board also looked at other options including a lease agreement related to the athletic field but Koons said those options weren’t as attractive.
Huxman said he understands people’s concerns about a public and a private entity working together on a project.
“People are concerned that public funds will be used to pay for Tabor College’s project. We can’t do that. It’s illegal,” Huxman said. “School districts cannot contribute to a private entity.”
That’s why the school district’s contribution toward the athletic field has to be for that portion of the facility that will be used by the school.
Collaboration with Tabor College is nothing new.
In the 1980s, USD 410 paid for a new track at the college. The school district has been paying several thousands of dollars each year to use the athletic facility.
All eyes were upon USD 410 during the lawsuit process, particularly those school districts considering similar projects.
“It scared off some of them and others moved forward anyway,” Koons said. He added that the situation with the Hillsboro school district was somewhat unique because USD 410 is a smaller school district with a private college.
The delays have not affected the school district as much as the college.
“We’re not going to lose students because of the facility,” Huxman said, referring to students visiting the college campus and the condition of all of the facilities as factors as to whether students will attend.
“What happens to USD 410 and Tabor College affects the community,” Huxman said.
Hearing and future of project
A hearing will be held Oct. 7 to clarify the judge’s ruling. Huxman said after the hearing other decisions may be made.
“We’re looking into ways to do this project with Tabor College,” Huxman said. “We’re going to pull this together for the good of the community.”