June 23, 2024

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Hays High School construction project, restrooms stirs controversy

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Ground is set to be broken at the new Hays, Kansas High School soon, and it is unclear if the USD 489 Board of Education has even approved the construction contract.

The Sentinel asked Hays Superintendent of Schools Ron Wilson to provide the minutes of the meeting where the board voted to approve the construction contract with Nabholz Construction Management for the $143.5 million bond, but — responding through Board Clerk Jess Reling — provided only a link to the district’s board documents website.

A follow up request to clarify the date that the contract was approved by the board failed to garner a response.

A special meeting of the board is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, and the contract is the only item on the agenda.

A copy of the contract — included as part of the agenda for the special meeting — however shows signatures by both Wilson and Nabholz Construction Management Executive Vice President of Operations Mike Mackey. Mackey’s signature is dated Sept. 15, 2023 and Wilson’s is dated Sept. 19, 2023. The memo included as the first page of the contract said the project was to begin on Sept. 18.

A search of the district’s website found the only reference to the board actually approving a construction contract was at a May 8, 2023 special meeting in which the board voted to approve the contract for the Roosevelt Elementary School addition and renovation — also part of the bond issue.  There is no documentation of board authorization for the high school contract to be signed, and the special meeting called for Wednesday also seems to indicate the contract was signed without board authorization.

New high school plan includes controversial bathroom design

A percentage of the bathrooms in the new high school will be unisex “private” restrooms — open to both boys and girls — with individual locking stalls and floor to ceiling walls, but a common wash area. Something which has concerned both parents and Board Member Allen Park.

The “private” bathrooms will be available on both floors of the new high school and will account for about a third of the restrooms available in the school. The rest will be traditional communal “boys and girls” bathrooms.

Artist’s representation of “private” bathrooms at new Hays High School.

Park has tried to put the bathrooms on the agenda several times, most recently at the Sept. 25, 2023 regular meeting. However, the Hays Board of Education, like many local school boards across the state, only allows the president of the board or the superintendent of schools to add items to the meeting agenda — except by majority vote.

According to Tiger Media — Park and fellow board member Curt Vajnar expressed concerns about how the bathrooms will be monitored. Since the initial discussion in April, Park has tried to put the bathroom discussion on the agenda, but the motion failed. 

At the most recent meeting he was told by Board President Ken Brooks he could not make a motion to amend the agenda because he had asked for the same topic to be brought up at a previous meeting, and the motion failed. The agenda was eventually approved, with Vajnar and Park voting no.

Park said his concern is that, while the issue of the bathrooms has come up in passing and there has been some public discussion — indeed fully half the most recent regular meeting was devoted to public comment on the bathrooms — the board has not had a discussion specifically about the bathrooms.

“The main issue right now, for me is, I’ve asked to have this put on the agenda multiple times,” Park said in a phone interview last week. “It has not actually gotten on the agenda. We have talked about it in board meetings, during issues like the talking about the bond that’s come up and we’ve had some discussion on it, but we haven’t really specifically addressed it.”

Both Park and parents at the most recent meeting expressed concerns about safety in the “private” bathrooms.

“Especially with the stalls that go all the way up to the top and all the way down to the bottom, it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some assaults that will happen,” Hays resident Ben Mettlen said. 

Park also had concerns and was told that there would be cameras mounted at the entrances to monitor who goes in and out — but those cameras will not capture what goes on in the bathroom communal areas.

“They assured us that they will be monitored but what is concerning to some of the parents is that you can’t watch 24/7,” Park said. “So that’s a concern that we need to address.”

 

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