$250M project proposed in preliminary plan by RCAS Facility Task Force

Plan proposes three new elementary schools, two new middle schools

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Rapid City Area Schools needs repairs and it won’t be as simple as putting a band aid on it. After a year of looking at the work to be done, the school’s Facility Task Force has put together a preliminary plan and they need a boost from tax payers to make it happen.

It’s been 45 years since Rapid City Area Schools have asked the public to support a bond. This preliminary plan, to cover Phase I, comes with a $250 million dollar price tag and proposes three new elementary schools at $30 million dollars a piece, rebuilding of two middle schools, and renovations to six more schools.

One of the three new elementary schools is proposed for the area south of Catron Blvd. and west of Hwy 16 to relieve the student population at Corral Drive Elementary.

A second school is planned for the Parkview area that would replace Robbinsdale Elementary.

Third, a school near Vicki Powers Park on the north side of Rapid City would take attendance from Horace Mann Elementary, which is also slated to close in the long run. The school would also keep kids on the north side of Rapid City from being bused from the north side to the west side.

In addition to Robbinsdale and Horace Mann Elementary Schools, Canyon Lake Elementary would also be closed under the preliminary plan, directing enrollment elsewhere.

The plan also calls for a complete rebuild of South and West Middle Schools. Pinedale, Meadowbrook, Knollwood, and Black Hawk would all receive funding for safety and security upgrades, play ground upgrades and STEAM labs. Stevens High School would see a new fine arts wing, security upgrades, and funding for Pathways Programming. Simon talks of possibly selling the Jefferson and Lincoln buildings that currently house

Upgrades and renovation projects of RCAS schools have been funded through the capital outlay fund but now, it’s falling short.

“The pool of money that’s available on an annual basis in capital outlay is not enough to even build one facility,” said Dr. Lori Simon, Superintendent Rapid City Area Schools.

The schools age, on average, 53 year old. That means the maintenance and upkeep of buildings has been going on just as long.

“It’s getting to the point where things can no longer be repaired and need to be replaced,” said Simon. “Retrofitting things in old buildings is not always a good use of this funding and that’s why it really is more cost effective to begin building new buildings.”

Simon says there are a number of maintenance needs across the district that have been put off because of either funding or aged infrastructure challenges.

“We’ve had several things come up in the last two years,” said Simon. “At West Middle School, the fire alarm system went down and that infrastructure was no longer able to be repaired and needed to be replaced and the parts could not come until the summer. We had to get special permission from the fire department to hold school the rest of the year. We also had to close school a few years ago in Black Hawk to take care of some maintenance issues. Fast forward to today, we’re fortunate that at South Middle School we didn’t have to close school but we had to take care of a collapsed sewer line under the school.”

Another problem posed by older buildings, is the safety, security, and modern learning needs that have evolved past what was thought possible decades ago.

Simon says having space in classrooms to both work independently and in groups to promote critical thinking is crucial. Also, having space in classrooms and labs to allow use of new technology.

Changes in classrooms will have to accommodate the growing student population. Some schools are busting at the seams with some jammed well over 100 students past capacity.

With a surge of growth expected in western South Dakota over the next decade associated with the B-21 Raider, RCAS is looking to the past to plan for the future.

“If we look at the opening of the base, the Rapid City community and RCAS were impacted greatly,” said Simon. “There was great growth during the 50s and 60s when that happened.”

Simon says a majority of growth is seen in elementary schools on the southwest side of Rapid City. Phase I of the preliminary plan calls for growth in mainly lower grades but once those kids grow up, overcrowding may grow into the high school level.

“It may be in one of the phases down the line that we need to look at adding a third high school,” said Simon. “We do have property already out in the valley so when that time comes and if it comes, that we would be in a good position to add that third high school.”

For now, the overcrowding is pressing on the problems a little harder.

“At Steven’s High School, we have our orchestra practicing in the hallway so if there were ever a lock-down event, those students would have no way at that point to quickly get to a locked room somewhere,” said Simon.

Phases II and III have yet to be determined and will be planned once Phase I takes shape.

If passed, it means a hike in taxes. But how much? RCAS has a tax calculator available on their website so you can find out just how much the bond would affect your household.

RCAS has made clear that they need the upgrades and expansions. If passed, renovations would begin. But what if it doesn’t pass? “If the bond were not to pass then I think the task force would like reconvene to develop the next option,” said Simon.

The district is looking for public input before making a final recommendation to the school board in June. If accepted in June, the city could see an election in the fall.

The first community engagement session is Tuesday night from 6:00-7:30 p.m. in the East Middle School Cafeteria.

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