Making a plan; Westphal evaluates Fort Riley schools
September 13, 2010
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Fort Riley leadership and Geary County Unified School District 475 officials played host Aug. 30 to the Honorable Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army, to give him a firsthand look at the repairs and remodeling needed in on-post elementary and middle schools.
Arriving on Fort Riley with one goal in mind - to figure out how to renovate and rebuild schools on post that fall under the authority of the Department of Education and the State of Kansas, Westphal first received a briefing within 1st Infantry Division headquarters detailing the most immediate needs in regards to schools.
He then toured different classrooms in Morris Hill Elementary school that illustrated the most urgent problems, including the lack of space, the lack of storage areas, overcrowded classrooms, unusable classrooms due to water damage and more.
"As the under secretary of the Army, I am the chief management officer of the Army.
Consequently, most of the issues that affect our forces today are issues I deal with," Westphal said, noting that though there are school problems throughout the nation's Army posts, Fort Riley is on top of the extensive list.
Though Westphal only saw one of the elementary schools, he felt it was representative of Fort Riley School's need for assistance.
"What I saw was really a 1950s to 1960s type of school, and it much reminded me of the school I attended when I was little," he said. "Though I think the school district (USD 475) is doing the best it possibly can to keep them up, they are definitely in need of repair. I saw a library without many books and computers that looked pretty dated."
Westphal said the constant influx of students will only continue to degrade the quality of infrastructure of each school.
"These children sometimes require special attention, or more care and focus. We have the means to do that, but what we don't have is the infrastructure on which that can be delivered," Westphal said, using private rooms and offices, private counseling offices, areas where students can expand their horizons and a smaller class count as areas that could be improved upon.
To achieve such renovations, Paul Fisher, U.S. Army Garrison public affairs officer, explained the school district would require about $26 million to alleviate overcrowding needs by constructing a new elementary school in the Forsyth neighborhood where the newest homes on Fort Riley are currently being built, as well as additions to three existing elementary schools.
The school district also is looking at a more long term fix, though, which would require about $112 million.
"The long-term solution is focused on correcting overcrowding, replacing outdated facilities and accommodating potential growth by funding the construction of replacement schools for the middle school and three elementary schools and the construction of an additional brand new elementary school," Fisher said.
The challenge in receiving the money lies in the fact that the schools are not a part of the Army infrastructure, which doesn't give Westphal direct authority or access to the resources to address the issues.
"These schools are leased to the school district and the school district runs the schools," Westphal said, explaining that to get the money to the district he and his staff are dedicated to receiving help from congress. Once they receive the resources appropriated by congress they will then move the resources to the Office of Economic Adjustment, which will then give grants to the school districts to help rebuild the schools.
"The (under secretary of the Army) visit is further affirmation from Department of Defense, that fixing schools at Fort Riley is a priority for the Army ... I am totally confident that the Army is committed to accomplishing this project," Fisher said.