Hot Springs Choir

Members of Les Chanteurs, the Hot Springs High School honors choir, under the direction of Mellisa Vande Stroet, perform “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” for the Hot Springs School Board at its Jan. 8 meeting. Several members of the 19 person group were unable to attend due to other activities, Vande Stroet said.

Photo by George Ledbetter

Work to replace the boilers heating Hot Springs School buildings is expected to get underway this summer, following a decision by the Hot Springs School Board to accept a bid of just under $195,000 for the much-needed project, according to school district superintendent Kevin Coles.

But questions remain about placement of a large tank that will store propane for the new boilers, board members learned at their regular meeting Jan. 8.

Rasmussen Mechanical submitted the low bid of $194,672 for the project to install three new boilers for the school, said board member Mark Walton, but later discussion revealed that a new tank large enough to provide fuel for the boilers could cost an additional $45,000 or more.

“I was hoping to use a 2,000 gallon tank, but that won’t work,” Walton said. “We need a 10,000 gallon tank.”

Replacing the boilers that provide heat for the High School, Middle School, shop and Tays activities center is a priority for the district because the old units have reached the end of their useful life, Coles said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It got to the point we had to do something,” he said.

The district has budgeted $300,000 from its capital outlay fund for the project, which is expected to result in long term savings on heating costs because the new units are highly efficient, said Coles.

Finding an appropriate site for the large propane tank that will hold fuel for the boilers may be a problem, however, because of requirements that the tank be at least 50 feet from any buildings, Walton told the board. “There’s not a lot of room around any of the schools,” he said.

One possibility would be to bury the tank in front of the high school building, but that would entail removing and replacing the existing asphalt, which could lead to later problems with water infiltration, Walton said. The buildings and grounds committee is investigating that issue and the possibility of finding a used tank, which could reduce the overall project cost, said Walton. And the tank could be sold if a plan to bring natural gas service to the community is realized, as the boilers can easily be switched to use natural gas instead of propane, he said.

The board’s buildings and grounds committee will bring its recommendation about placement of the tank to the board after further studying the question, said Coles.

Issues with students who elect to take high school classes through the Black Hills Online Learning Community were brought to board’s attention Monday by High School principal Mary Weiss, who said some students are having to do make up work after failing in their first semester of online classes.

“It didn’t work out for them. Most are back in school and I try to find places for them,” said Weiss.

Hot Springs High School students have more than one option for online learning, Weiss noted. A number of courses, including dual credit college level classes, are offered through a company called Edgenuity, and that program has been successful, in part because school officials can monitor students’ progress directly and intervene quickly if they are having problems, she said.

The district has less control of students who take classes from Black Hills Online Learning, which is provided by the Black Hills Special Services Coop, Weiss said. Parents can sign up directly for that program, and the district receives only a weekly report of the student’s progress.

“They are on their own,” said Weiss.

Students who are homeschooled are the primary users of Black Hills Online Learning, Weiss said, but some students enroll in the program thinking it is a way to avoid attending classes. That can lead to problems if the student isn’t sufficiently motivated to meet course requirements, she said.

“It depends on the student,” she said. “If you do online schooling because you think it’s an easy way out, it’s not.”

Weiss said she wrote letters to the parents of students who were failing in their Black Hills Online Learning course work, and has made arrangements for the students to return to classrooms for the second semester and make up the work they didn’t complete. She declined to provide a number of students affected, and emphasized that not everyone has problems with the program.

“Black Hills Online Learning is really good for some students. It’s just individual kids. The parent and student have to be really dedicated.”” she said. “I think (online learning) is a wave of the future.”

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Coles also expressed support for online education.

“I believe online learning experiences are good opportunities for our students,” he said. “For many students, it’s preferred.”

In other business the board:

*accepted, with regret, the resignation of board member Brandi Christensen. Christensen said she is moving to Rapid City;

*set the next board election for June 5, to be held in conjunction with city and county elections;

*heard a report from elementary principal John Fitzgerald that a visit from the Dental Van resulted in approximately $42,000 of dental work for students which resulted in improvements in their performance in school.

“We really have a need for that. It’s amazing what that does,” Fitzgerald said;

*learned that preparations have begun for high school graduation ceremonies on May 12 and that 68 students are expected to receive diplomas.

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