Robbinsdale Elementary cracks showing in old age
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The state of our schools: Robbinsdale

Robbinsdale Elementary cracks showing in old age

Editor's note: This is the second 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.

Kumar Veluswamy remarked last Friday that walking into Robbinsdale Elementary School felt like opening an oven door.

That's a result of the old radiators the school relies on for heat, the Rapid City Area Schools facilities manager said. Silt buildup has increased the length of time it takes for them to heat a room, he said, and turning them off altogether is easier said than done when considering temperatures swings common in springtime.

Built in 1953, Robbinsdale is one of three elementary schools slated to close over the next three to six years as part of a proposed master plan for school facilities. The other two are Canyon Lake and Horace Mann. School officials have yet to determine if the buildings would be demolished or if the property would be sold.

Robbinsdale would be replaced in part by a new $30 million elementary school that the district wants to build near the Parkview area. Property that the schools own there that could be used for new construction outright or traded in a land swap, officials have said.

The construction of two other new elementary schools and the reconstruction of South and West middle schools is laid out in that same plan.

The infrastructural overhaul would be financed by a $250 million bond issue that would raise property taxes. The school-civilian task force that crafted the plan is expected to make its final recommendations to the schools' board of education — which will decide whether to put the bond issue on the ballot for referendum — in June. In South Dakota, bond issues need 60 percent approval to pass.

Cracks in the wall

Besides stuffiness, the first indicators of Robbinsdale's age that school officials point to are the cracks lining the walls of its hallways, classrooms and bathrooms.

Veluswamy said the school was built on expansive soils, resulting in foundational shifting that has visibly warped floors and split walls. Gauges mounted on top of the cracks measure the amount that they move over time. Veluswamy said that he checks them every other week.

"We are constantly seeing movement in the cracks," Veluswamy said.

Another sign of old age is the presence of asbestos in the building. Veluswamy said that the carcinogenic insulation material has been removed or enclosed where necessary but that not all of it has been abated in the tunnels underneath the school.

Like Canyon Lake, Robbinsdale is said by school officials to suffer from a lack of space. Principal Beth Keeney said around 500 students attend the school and 67 staff and faculty members work there. School records show that the building has a functional capacity of 509.

Keeney said the tight spacing limits the school's ability to implement lab-like open classrooms popular in newer schools. It also leaves little room for employees, who in some cases can be seen working from the hallways or in storage closets.

Due to its age, the building was not designed with accessibility for disabled persons in mind. The cafeteria, where the stage used for school assemblies is located, sits downstairs from the main floor, for example.

“The only presentation space that we have is the stage,” Keeney said.

Wheelchair lifts have been installed throughout the building, but Veluswamy said installing an elevator would not be possible because of code requirements.

The private facilities study that the district commissioned in 2015 and guides the master plan currently on the table scored the condition of each school out of 100. The highest score of 90 went to General Beadle Elementary, which was built in 2008.

Robbinsdale was scored at 66.54. Veluswamy said it would cost a little more than $20 million just to bring that score up to 85.

Next steps

Keeney has been principal of Robbinsdale for only one year but already has the sense that teachers are excited at the prospect of moving to a new school.

"But they are also maybe a little skeptical about the chances of getting a big bond like this passed," she said.

If Robbinsdale were to close, students could end up transferring to one of several schools depending on how district boundary lines are redrawn, including the one proposed for Parkview. They could also go to either South Park or Grandview Elementary schools.

Veluswamy said those boundaries have not yet been drawn and could be affected by input the schools are gathering through surveys and public meetings.

"We are in the preliminary stage of this plan," he said.

No conceptual drawings of the Parkview school have yet been rendered, but Veluswamy said that it would likely be designed similarly to General Beadle and Valley View elementary schools. He said that such drawings could be ready for presentation in June or July.

School officials have said that counseling and other support services will be offered to students to ease them through the transition to a new school. 

“I think that they would be excited about going into a new building that has some maybe new opportunities," Keeney said.

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