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Emporia Public Schools Board of Education members approved contracts for a pair of construction purchases including a removal of asbestos at Walnut Elementary during a regularly-scheduled meeting Wednesday.

“[The removal is] mainly in the renovation areas,” said Eric Woltje, a senior project manager with Kansas City-based McCownGordon Construction. McCownGordon is currently overseeing numerous improvement projects that were included as part of USD 253’s recently-passed bond issue. “Back before Walnut elementary was bid, we had Dalrymple Consulting go through … to do an environmental survey to understand where the asbestos-containing material and lead paint was within that facility that could potentially be disturbed during the construction phase.”

Woltje said the Walnut project’s current fund was a couple thousand dollars over budget, meaning the district was likely covered in the event that more toxic items were found. The removal is expected to be completed by Remco, and will run just over $22,000 pending any unexpected work.

“We can’t see through walls, unfortunately,” Woltje said, referring to the likelihood of similar projects at other district buildings such as Emporia High School. “So, there could be something left, and those extra funds should come in handy in case we stumble on any more materials.”

Board members also accepted a bid from Kaw Valley Engineering Inc. for construction materials testing and inspection services involved with renovations to the Early Childhood Center. The bid — which totaled $26,275 — came in nearly $9,000 below the allocated master budget on the project.

In other business, the board of education discussed the issue of dramatically-rising health and dental insurance rates for district employees.

Multiple board members said they had received emails in recent weeks expressing concerns with how expensive district-provided insurance plans had become over the summer, forcing some employees to face tough decisions on their employment status for next semester.

While discussion Wednesday was strictly information, board members agreed additional discussion on the matter would be needed on the issue — and fast — saying they would be open to scheduling an emergency meeting before their next scheduled meeting on Oct. 28.

“I’m struggling because … we’re asking [staff] to make decisions on [their insurance plans] today,” Board President Mike Crouch said. “We may be forcing people to take plans that are completely unrealistic for their family because they can’t afford the monthly premium. I don’t feel like it’s fair to our people to say, ‘Well, we’ll let you know in a couple of weeks what we might be able to do, if anything.’”

In further business items, the board:

• Accepted a $25,000 microgrant from the Patterson Family Foundation to help with the district’s current pandemic-related needs. In addition to the cash grant, the foundation will also ship free PPE for area students and staff.

• Accepted a $1,000 donation from The Teacher Fund in the support of STEM classes at Walnut Elementary.

• Accepted a $3,000 donation from the Emporia Community Foundation to assist the Emporia High School and Emporia Middle School music departments in creating a virtual Seasonal Celebration this season.

• Recognized members of the First United Methodist Church of Emporia and their community partners for their “especially-generous” donations of school supplies for all USD 253 students this academic year.

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