Classes might have just started for the district, but the administration and board at Sapulpa Public Schools are already thinking years down the road.
The upcoming school bond election, set for September 12th, is an ambitious proposal to bring a new high school and performing arts center to replace the aging building, as well as lay the foundation—both literally and metaphorically—for the next generation of Sapulpa graduates to enter a world of opportunities as prepared as they could possibly be.
This is the first of a four-part series on the Chieftain Stronger 2023 School Bond. This week will focus on the high school.
“Lipstick and paint”
When the election date for the Chieftain Stronger Bond was set last July, Sapulpa School Board President Larry Hoover indicated it was high time the high school get the attention it deserved.
“We’re to a point that we’ve addressed almost every building in our district,” he said then. “We’ve put lipstick and paint on (the High School) for years trying to make it work but at some point you go, ‘we need to do something.’”
Hoover’s allusion to the “lipstick on a pig” metaphor is not hyperbolic. The Sapulpa High School is, at this point, more than six decades old. Talk to those who graduated at any point within the last quarter-century and they will tell you, “heck, it was old when I was there.”
Thousands of students have passed through the halls since it first opened, and it shows. Leaky roofs, failing fixtures, and the absence of modern conveniences that other school districts enjoy are some of the constant obstacles the students at Sapulpa High face every day.
“The current high school does not even have HVAC in the hallways,” said Rob Armstrong, Sapulpa Public Schools Superintendent. “Early 1960s underground infrastructure, such as clay pipes and outdated plumbing, do not support the student population or the number of visitors who come through the school for events and activities.”
Each year, costs to repair and maintain the building increase. Sapulpa Public Schools may spend $200,000 or more per year on repairs and maintenance at the high school alone, depending on the year and what is eligible for insurance claims.
Assessing the cost
The discussion for a new junior-senior high school began in 2014, after the passage of the Chieftain Strong bond issue, which funded a number of district improvement projects over the course of nine years. At the time, the long-range planning committee outlined a master plan for future development, with an estimated cost of $45 to $50 million for a new high school campus.
Since that time, interest rates and costs for building materials and construction have increased dramatically, leading Sapulpa Public Schools to devise a feasible plan for the new school with the least impact on taxpayers. The plan to build a 9th-12th grade building, in addition to the renovation of the junior high school, came together as a result of a months-long analysis involving bond consultant Zack Robinson of BOK Financial, architects, and construction managers. The new plan brings together a new high school, a state-of-the-art performing arts center, an expanded “educational pathways” curriculum program, renovations and expansions to several athletic facilities, and a standard transportation budget proposal for the price of just over $279 million.
It is, to be sure, the largest school bond Sapulpa has ever proposed. The Chieftain Stronger Bond 2023 proposal is a lease revenue bond, which is the same type of school bond issue passed by voters in 2014. School bond proposals factor in project costs plus financing. Bond consultant Zack Robinson says these bonds work similarly to a home mortgage, which is paid out in principal plus interest over time. Proponents of the bond issue say that the project is worth the cost, which, when broken down by household, amounts to an estimated $6 a month and change for a home assessed at $100,000.
“It’s important to keep in mind that taxpayers have paid more than the bond proposal’s target millage rate of 32 mills in the past,” said Superintendent Armstrong. “For just cents per day, homeowners can consider this bond proposal an investment in our students, the future of our district, and the entire Sapulpa community. We know Sapulpa is growing and changing. Great schools attract more students and fuel economic growth within communities.”
What will the new high school look like?
The new Sapulpa High School is designed to fulfill several obligations based on the needs of the current student body, as well as pave the way for future students.
The safety of the Sapulpa Public Schools students, staff, and community is the first area of importance, according to documentation regarding the Chieftain Stronger bond. The redesigned high school will have heightened security systems and layers of protection built into the entire campus. The proposed new high school will have a drastically reduced number of entry points, improved security technologies, as well as a FEMA-rated storm shelter to accommodate the entire campus population.
The reimagined Sapulpa High School will be built to support educational and career pathways. It will be a place for students to customize their individual educational journey. We will dive more deeply into the pathways program in part three of our four-part series on the Chieftain Stronger bond proposal.
As evident from the renderings, the new Sapulpa High School campus will be a highlight on Route 66 as a major development at the corner of Mission Street and Dewey Avenue. The exterior design reflects a “Main Street” experience, featuring an expansive community plaza along Mission Street to welcome visitors, artists, and vendors. The plaza can host Homecoming events, festivals, farmers’ markets, and more.
The high school project also includes a Fabrication Lab and a Performing Arts Center which can be shared by the community and will attract more events and visitors. More detail on these specific endeavors is scheduled for later in this series.
Many residents will be pleased to see the high school will remain on the same campus that has been its home since being built all those decades ago. Heather Browne, Communications Director for the district, says the decision was a direct result of the community feedback. “We learned Sapulpans support the current location for its traditional presence in the heart of the city,” she said.
Superintendent Rob Armstrong and other administration staff are currently visiting with various groups in the community to help get the word out about the vote coming up in less than a month.
“Simply put: Sapulpa students deserve a better high school,” Armstrong says. “They deserve a school that will meet the needs of modern education and reflects the extraordinary opportunities our schools provide.”
Sapulpa Public Schools has collected more information on the upcoming bond on its website. Visit sapulpaps.org/bond2023 to learn more.