Editor's note: This is the fourth 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.
There's a long hallway in South Middle School that descends over four stair flights and poses a significant hurdle for students with disabilities.
An out-of-service lift snakes along one side for which replacement parts are no longer manufactured, even though it was installed in 1991. Repairing it will cost an estimated $47,000.
Since the lift broke down, students who use wheelchairs have been forced to travel outside the building — regardless of weather — to get from one end of that hall to the other.
Standing across from the lift last week, Tashia Schreiner, a special education teacher at South, lamented that the school's design makes it harder for students who have special needs or disabilities to participate with those who do not.
"The little gal we just took (outside), we have to take her out and around each day so she can go up to the lunchroom to eat with her peers,” Schreiner remarked.
Like other schools its age, South is afflicted by a combination of accessibility and infrastructural issues. The private study that the Rapid City Area Schools commissioned in 2016 rated it the worst in the district in terms of building condition and technological capability.
It's the district's hope to rebuild the school where it stands in the next three to six years as part of a proposed master plan for district facilities. The reconstruction of West Middle School and the closure of three elementary schools would occur in that same span of time.
The plan would be financed by a $250 million bond issue that would be paid off through a property tax increase. The school-civilian task force that helped draft it is expected to finalize its recommendations for presentation to the school board in June.
If board members approve the plan, the bond issue will be put to a referendum vote that would require 60 percent approval to pass.
Trouble under foot
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Speaking in an empty classroom at South Middle School last week, District Facilities Manager Kumar Veluswamy bent toward the floor and set down a golf ball. Once it stopped bouncing, it shot across the sloped floors and ricocheted off the baseboard.
"See how fast that thing goes?" Veluswamy said. "It just didn't even think twice, did it?"
One can physically feel the effect that foundational settling has had on the school by simply walking through it. The floor is visibly warped in numerous classrooms and hallways.
Pronounced signs of settling can be seen in the school's central courtyard, where water quickly pools during heavy rainfall. Veluswamy put the cost of roofing it off at half a million dollars.
The soil the school stands on is of poor quality, but Veluswamy said it could be rebuilt atop piles driven deep into the ground that would ensure its stability. All together, rebuilding the 60-year-old school would cost an estimated $45 million.
The school's adjoining community center, which opened in 2003, would not be torn down.
Like other schools eyed for closure or reconstruction, South's water and sewer lines are embedded in its concrete foundation, making them expensive to repair. Light fixtures are similarly embedded in the ceiling structures and would likely be difficult to replace without exposing underlying asbestos.
“The contractors will not touch it if there is asbestos, because it could get airborne,” Veluswamy said.
While it is a bustling school, South is not as crowded as others in the district. With four annexes — modular buildings used as freestanding classrooms — it has a capacity of 708 and an enrollment count of around 660. School figures do, however, project that its population to grow in the next several years.
Whereas new elementary schools would be built in the mold of General Beadle Elementary, Veluswamy said that East Middle School, built in 2012, will likely serve as the model for future middle-grade centers.