More than 40 residents and school officials attended the first of several planned public forums that the Rapid City school district is hosting to gather feedback on a proposed 10-year facility plan.
Those in attendance heard directly from Superintendent Lori Simon about the proposal, as well as from several members of the task force that crafted it. Simon said the task force, which is comprised of school administrative and board officials as well as residents, felt it was important to get feedback on their plan before submitting a final version to the school board in June.
"Let's be proactive. Let's talk to our community and engage with them as much as we can before we finalize a plan to take to the board," she said.
The massive facilities overhaul includes the construction of five new schools over three to six years and would be financed with a $250 million bond issue that would raise property taxes. At the school board's approval, the bond issue would then be subject to a referendum vote, which would require a 60 percent majority to pass.
Residents have not been asked to support a bond issue since 1991, when one worth $20.7 million was floated to finance the construction of a third high school. More than 60 percent of voters rejected the measure at the polls.
The current plan calls for three new elementary schools built in three new locations for $30 million apiece that would replace Robbinsdale, Horace Mann and Canyon Lake, all of which would close. South and West middle schools would be rebuilt where they stand for $45 million each.
Another $70 million would be set aside for renovations at Pinedale, Meadowbrook, Knollwood and Black Hawk elementary schools, as well as for Stevens and Rapid City high schools. Stevens alone stands to receive $22 million for a new fine arts wing.
At Tuesday night's meeting, several residents questioned why the task force did not recommend the construction of a third high school. Facilities Manager Kumar Veluswamy said the elementary and middle schools in question are among the most outdated and overcrowded in the district and are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
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In light of Rapid City's continued population growth, he said, the congestion at those schools make for a growing safety risk.
The new buildings would also be located in parts of the district that the task force believes will see the most commercial and residential growth. Simon added that future phases of the plan have yet to be hashed out, and a third high school is not yet out of the question.
Several residents told the Rapid City Journal that they were not sure that they could support raising property taxes. The bond is estimated to come out to an increase of $2.37 for every $1,000 of a home's assessed value. An owner of a home worth $100,000 would, for example, pay an additional $237.26 in annual taxes under the plan.
"The elderly population in our area, this is going to be a hardship for them," said Kathy Rice, a resident who attended the meeting.
Other residents said that they need more time to think the proposal over before deciding how they would vote on the bond issue.
"I have to do some more research," said Leah Bifulco, whose children are not yet of school age.
"I do support the idea of having more facilities to help compensate for this growth," she added. "I do think it's a step in the right direction for sure."
The district’s next town hall meeting on the facilities plan is scheduled to be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the West Middle School cafeteria at 1003 Soo San Drive.