After a year of intense studying, brainstorming, and thoughtful planning, the Rapid City Area Schools Facilities Task Force is ready to share their preliminary facilities plan with the community. More importantly, the Board of Education, Task Force, and RCAS leaders want to hear what our community thinks of the plan. Public input is highly important and will impact the development of the Task Force’s final recommendation to the Board of Education.

As the Task Force has worked this past year, it became clear that we need to address our facility needs in four key areas: aging and deteriorating facilities, capacity issues and future growth, safety and security, and 21st century learning.

We have many aging and deteriorating facilities. The average age of our buildings is 53 years old. More than half were built between 1949 and 1963 to handle the influx of people coming to Rapid City, in part, due to the opening of Ellsworth Air Force Base in 1941. Our school facilities have held up well and our staff have worked hard through the years to maintain our buildings. There comes a point, though, when the cost of addressing all the issues of an older property costs more than building new.

Our community is growing and our enrollment is climbing, particularly in the east, south, and southwest areas of Rapid City. We are simply running out of room. We already exceed capacity at multiple buildings and have many crowded classrooms. Consider this, in 1950, around the time when many of our buildings were constructed, the population of Rapid City was just over 25,000. Today our population exceeds 76,000. Rapid City has literally grown three times in size. It will continue to grow, especially with the impending expansion of Ellsworth Air Force Base.

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There are many safety and security concerns that did not exist when most of our schools were built. There have been dozens of school shootings in the last two decades, and as a result – schools have had to rethink safety and security, including safe entrances, cameras, and ALICE drills – just to name a few. While measures have been taken to improve safety and security at all of our buildings, retrofitting older buildings to meet optimal safety standards is very difficult at best.

The demands of a 21st century learning environment look very different than the demands in the 1950s and ‘60s when the majority of our schools were built. We need more room for STEM and computer labs, flexible learning spaces for collaboration and hands-on learning, and infrastructure to support ever-changing technology so that our students have the knowledge, skills, and experiences to be prepared for jobs today and in the future.

Simply put, we are at a point where doing nothing is not an option. This month, we will unveil the task force’s preliminary plan to address all of these areas, but at the end of the day, the Facilities Task Force wants to present a recommendation to the Board of Education that truly reflects the needs and wants of our community. To do that, we need your input. I am excited to move ahead and look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks at our community engagement sessions. I sincerely hope you will be part of the process going forward.

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Lori J. Simon is the superintendent of Rapid City Public Schools.

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