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Editor's note: This is the third story in a five-part series looking at the schools that are proposed to be closed under Rapid City Area Schools $250 million facilities proposal.

Standing in the halls of Horace Mann Elementary School last week, Principal Kelly Gorman pointed from the window to several spots on the grounds where rainwater continually pools.

The school's parking lots and playground are among the places, she said, where rain and snowmelt accumulate most noticeably after traveling down the nearby hills.

"There is basically a channel of water — and when it's cold it's a frozen pond — that stretches the length of the whole parking lot," Gorman said.

While Horace Mann is among the Rapid City Area School's oldest elementary centers — it was built in 1953 — officials say that it does not suffer from dilapidation to the same extent as its peers. 

In the private building study that the district commissioned in 2015, engineers actually awarded the school's condition a slightly lower score than Canyon Lake Elementary, which was built four year earlier. 

And although the school is about 60 bodies shy of its capacity of 390, district officials maintain that it simply lacks the space for computers, flexible seating arrangements and other hallmarks of what they term "21st Century Learning."

For that reason, the district wants to close it and two other elementary schools over the next several years in the first phase of a proposed master plan for facilities. Many students could transfer as a result to a new school that would be erected near Vicki Powers Park in that same span of time.

That plan, which also recommends the construction of two elementary schools and the reconstruction of South and West middle schools, would be financed by a $250 million bond issue that would raise property taxes. The school-civilian task force that helped draft it is slated to finalize its recommendations for presentation to the school board in June.

From there, the school board will decide whether the bond issue will be put to the ballot for a referendum vote that would require 60 percent approval to pass.

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While Horace Mann may not be in as bad of shape as other schools in the district, District Facilities Manager Kumar Veluswamy said last week that maintaining it is not without its challenges. 

He said that runoff, which Gorman counted as one of the most pressing issues the school faces, would not be alleviated by the installation of a storm sewer because hook-up lines for one do not extend to the campus.

The district had looked at purchasing storm drains that emptied into water tanks as one solution, but Veluswamy said the half-million dollar cost of installing one ruled out that possibility.

Additionally, cracks have begun sprouting up along walls in parts of the school due to foundational shifting.

“Even though the building is not as bad as Robbinsdale, we have shifting happening within this building too," Veluswamy said, adding that Robbinsdale was built on less stable soil than Horace Mann.

Because of the building's old age, Veluswamy said, power is also a difficulty. Because electrical lines are embedded in the concrete underneath the school, he said, rewiring it would likely be expensive.

All told, Veluswamy put the cost of executing the minimum amount of work that the school needs at $15 million, half the projected cost of building the new school near Vicki Powers Park.

But officials are quick to point out repairing Horace Mann wouldn't begin to address some of the school's underlying issues.

Like other schools slated for closure, Horace Mann was built before more modern building codes and accessibility guidelines were implemented. Faculty also said that it lacks for storage space in classrooms and an employee conference room. 

Eight employees currently work out of the school's education intervention room while such spaces at newer schools have much lower adult-to-student ratios.

Kallie Gebhard, a fifth grade teacher, said that the school's unreliable wireless internet has caused issues for students taking online state assessments.

She also said that the prospect of building a new school with more classroom space was something that excited her, but she acknowledged that losing a neighborhood school was something parents are uneasy about.

"We have a lot of kids that walk in this neighborhood to school, so that will have to change," she said.

A model for the future

Veluswamy has said that the three new elementary schools the district wants to build for $30 million apiece would be built in the mold of General Beadle Elementary School.

The goal, he said, would be to have a bigger school whose classrooms still feel inviting.

The spacious classrooms at both General Beadle and Valley View Elementary, built in 2004, are divided into near-identical wings and allow ample natural lighting.

They also tend to feature seating options from yoga balls to stools.

Veluswamy and Valley View Dean Chad Hanson defended such flourishes, which parents and taxpayers may not value as being important to kids.

“They learn better when they can kind of pick their comfort level," Hanson said of flexible seating.

Teachers and students can also exit through doors directly to the outside in newer classrooms, which both Veluswamy and Hanson said is crucial in emergencies. Libraries at both schools feature 3D printers and other new educational technology.

Still, the district's newer schools do face issues with overcrowding that officials hope the construction of more schools will relieve. Valley View is near its capacity for 617 having added an additional section of kindergarten this year.

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