education

School outlines new elementary and bond details

Board seeks public input on the future of its elementary education facility

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“Someone paid taxes to educate me and my kids; it is now my turn to help educate someone else’s kids.” Letter to the De Smet Board of Education, Oct. 22, 1996.

On Thurs., April 21, the De Smet School District hosted an informational community meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to educate the public/taxpayers of the current condition of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School building and to discuss and answer questions about a possible bond, and how it could impact the taxpayers as well as the school. De Smet is looking at the possibility of a bond at $0.90 per $1,000 of value.

Approximately sixty individuals showed up Thursday evening at the meeting. School board members and school staff took guests on tours of the elementary building before and after the meeting, so they could see firsthand some of the issues.

THE ELEMENTARY BUILDING

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School building was originally built in 1963. It was a perfect solution for what the community needed at that time and has served its purpose well over the last 58 years.

As buildings age, requirements of the occupants change, fire and health safety codes usually become stricter and security issues crop into the process, creating a longer list of needs that should be addressed.

A classroom with three outlets in 1963 was deemed adequate for the electrical needs of a class back then. Now, a class of 23 students, each with a computer notebook, have increased the use of electricity in the classrooms. Technology loves electricity.

In the elementary building, a centralized office was ideal back in 1963. Administration could walk anywhere on the campus in no time and elementary staff could access the offices easily.

Security mandates that the offices be at the entrances, so guests arrive from outside and enter the office first, check in and then are granted access to the building.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which came along after the schoolhouse was built, mandate door widths to allow wheelchairs through. The doors to the classroom are in loadbearing walls, and to install wider doors would be extremely expensive. ADA mandates ramps and their approved slopes in a building.

An ADA ramp should rise one inch for every foot of vertical rise. A ramp to cover two steps would need to be 15-18’ long. This takes up a tremendous amount of space. Retrofitting an older building to meet the current ADA standards can be difficult and costly.

Maintenance problems have cropped up in recent years, and their frequency is increasing. The maintenance problems are not caused because of a lack of proper care and maintenance but due to the age of the material. Sixty-year-old sewer lines have a tendency to collapse, backing up the line and causing waste material to seep out of a nearby floor drain, creating health concerns.

Repairs to sewer lines usually require a jackhammer, wheelbarrows and a lot of effort and time. They can be costly.

Temperature control in each classroom is a challenging task. One class may have the perfect temperature in winter with the boiler and radiator system, while the next class is extremely warm. There is no air conditioning, except for window units. The system needs a complete overhaul or replacement.

Environmental controls that are not working efficiently lead to higher utility bills, money that could be put to better use for the students or school.

There are many more issues, but these are the major concerns.

RENOVATION

As the list of building repairs and needs becomes longer, the school board investigated the concerns in the elementary building.

A renovation of the schoolhouse would be $7.4 million for a building that is sixty years old. There would be no guarantees that something might collapse, break or leak after the renovations were complete.

BUILDING AN ADDITION

Because of the high renovation costs, the school district turned their attention to the possibility of building a new facility. Building a new elementary building in the current location had logistical problems. Where would students be housed while the current building was torn down, and the new one constructed?

An addition to the current high school campus would make them a K-12 campus. Resources such as kitchen, dining, library, technology and staff could easily be shared and decrease construction costs.

The addition would be located where the gravel parking lot is on thehigh school’s west side. The current LIW Building Project would add ten classrooms, which is one more than a renovation. The offices would be at the entrance. A reading nook would be added, and four of the classrooms would include a separate bathroom.

The new addition would continue some of the accents from the high school building but also incorporate
some new designs to give an appearance of farmhouse or homestead. Further to the west would be a playground that carried around to the south toward the high school shop area.

The addition would be close to 20,000 square feet. At a cost estimate of $300 per square foot, the building would cost just under $6 million. Funds would also be needed for sitework, integrating and improving the environmental control systems with the high school building’s system. Furniture, fixtures and equipment would need to be purchased, along with professional services, construction reserve and design contingencies. The total would come to $9 million.

FUNDING THE LIW BUILDING PROJECT

The De Smet Board of Education looked at pursuing Capital Outlay Certificates to fund the addition, but the rising cost of construction was more than the certificates could cover, so they moved to investigating a bond issue which requires a public vote.

Two bonds have previously passed in the De Smet School District, including one for the LIW Elementary School. The bond was for $178,000 and passed with a 408-53 vote in 1963. A second bond for $2.5 million passed in 1996 with a vote of 589-340 and was used for the De Smet High School building.

A look at the table “Area School District Property Tax Comparison Taxes Payable 2022” shows that the De Smet School Board and the administration has managed the school in a way that has kept taxes in the middle of tax ranges in nearby school districts.

De Smet School District is considering a bond election to fund the elementary addition on June 21.

If approved, $9 million from 25-year general obligation bonds would be issued. Minus the administrative costs, the district would net $8,960,242.12. The interest rate is projected to be 4%, and an annual payment should be $576,823 for the school district.

The passage of the bond would cost taxpayers $0.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. A house valued at $108,000 would see their property tax increase by $97.20 (108 X $0.90 = $97.20). A commercial property assessed at $500,000 would pay $450 a year more. A farmer with agriculture land assessed at $2,000 would see his taxes increase $1.80 per acre. (For more information, see the table labeled “Annual Property Tax Increase.”)

Seniors and disabled citizen who have filed an application for an Assessment Freeze with Kingsbury County would still be responsible for the bond portion. Their assessed value would remain at the levels they turned 65 years old, or when the disability occurred.

WHAT’S NEXT

The school board is seeking public input on the future of De Smet's elementary education building before voting on a resolution at their May 9th meeting to take the bond referendum to an election, which would be held on June 21.

They encourage anyone who has not yet toured the current facility to come take a look and provide their input. A tour can be arranged at any time, including during school hours, by calling the LIW office at 605 854-3963.

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