Proposed building project: A step forward; Public meeting is Sept. 18 to discuss Wakonda school cons

Proposed building project: A step forward; Public meeting is Sept. 18 to discuss Wakonda school construction by M. Jill Karolevitz �If we stand still, we�re really stepping backwards.�

That simple statement, made by Wakonda Superintendent Ron Flynn, lends credence to the proposed construction project at Wakonda School.

Cramped facilities have prompted discussion of expansion for many years. Serious plans, however, are now taking shape.

The Wakonda School Board, Building Project Steering Committee members and architect Glenn Mannes of Yankton, have designed a one-story addition for office space, as well as elementary, special education, Early Childhood and Chapter I classrooms. The structure will be built on the eastern side of the existing school. Remodeling plans are also in the works for the building currently in use. Those include the installation of an elevator in the stage area of the old gym, new heating and air conditioning, moving office space into former grade school classrooms and installing safety features, such as higher stairwell railings on the second floor. Parking areas will be improved. A joint city-school library will also be part of the new addition.

The cost for the entire project is estimated at $900,000 for the new construction and $900,000 for remodeling � all to be paid for with a bond issue.

�The cost at this point is a rough estimate,� said Van Moser, school board and Building Project Steering Committee member.

Capital outlay funds wouldn�t be used for the project, but may be used for some furnishings down the road.

�We don�t have an excessive amount in capital outlay because we haven�t over-taxed the people of our district,� Moser said. �And the school board would like to retain that fund rather than use it for this project.�

A bond issue election could take place as early as November, but not without informational public meetings.

�We�ve had one meeting already and I was prepared for the worst,� Flynn said. �But I was surprised � people were really positive.�

The second meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the old gym.

�It�s the goal of the school board to provide as much information as we possibly can to the people of the district, then let them decide what to do,� Moser said.

�One of the problems we face is that we have all of our students � kindergarten through grade 12 � in one building,� Flynn said. �The new addition would move kindergarten through sixth grade into a building of their own, giving secondary students more room.�

Student population now stands at 185 � down from last year.

�We had a large senior class last year, replaced with a small kindergarten class this year,� Flynn said. �And three or four students moved out of the district.

�People will say, ?you shouldn�t be cramped, you don�t have as many kids as before�,� he continued. �But they forget, when we went to school � for me it was over 30 years ago � we didn�t have special education, Title or pre-school. We didn�t have computer labs. Now we have two, and computers take up more space than a piece of chalk. It all takes up space, and as it stands, it puts us in a crunch for rooms.�

Besides increasing the number of classrooms, advantages of the proposed building project are many, according to Flynn. The new classrooms will be 850 square feet. The elevator will put the school into ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, should a disabled student enroll at Wakonda. And the city-school library will accommodate more than just students, with easy access for the public.

�The combined city-school library is a major feature of this project,� Moser said. �A school shouldn�t just be for students. We need to get people in there more than for athletic events. The library would provide many opportunities for the public, including computer access. If we pass this bond issue, we want to give something back to the public.

�The board�s feeling is that we need to upgrade our 1922 building to provide a better learning environment for our students and staff,� Moser continued. �And the addition of the elementary wing will separate the students � shared facilities aren�t always good for little kids.�

A needs assessment was completed several years ago, which prompted the school board to maintain the existing building because of its structural soundness.

�The needs assessment noted remodeling was necessary, but we got good marks otherwise,� Moser said. �That swayed our thinking to renovate the present building.�

�It�s built like the Rock of Gibraltar,� Flynn added.

Flynn has been at Wakonda School for 22 years. He has served as a coach, teacher and principal and this is his first year as superintendent. He is also secondary principal for grades seven through 12. Kay Lueth is the elementary principal.

�This is the first major building project we�ve talked about since I came,� he said. �The new gym was built in 1975 but there hasn�t been anything since then.

�We can�t be lulled into a false sense of security thinking this will go through,� he continued. �But we do have to be conscious of the future. We have to look at what other schools are doing. That�s not to say we�re simply trying to keep up with the Joneses when you look at the building that�s been done at schools in neighboring communities. We just think it�s time for us to make some progress.�

Losing students to open enrollment is also a consideration.

�We can�t guarantee student retention, but this project will help,� Moser said.

Moser and Flynn are proud of the education Wakonda School provides for its students.

�We have a fine educational system,� Moser said. �The test scores show it on both state and national levels.�

The community is also proud of its school. Past surveys of Wakonda School District residents show that the community�s number one priority is to keep its school open. Flynn and Moser are in agreement, especially if consolidation is mentioned.

�Consolidation is a big issue throughout the country,� Moser said. �I�m biased about Wakonda � I think recent support shown with the raising of public donations for a new wood floor in the gym and the swimming pool renovation is an indication that there is community support out there for our youth. Working together with other communities and their schools through Distance Learning and other cooperative efforts would be better than consolidation.�

�Even if we were to look at consolidation down the road, we would need to prepare for it,� Flynn added. �If we don�t have anything to offer as a facility, we couldn�t expect to end up with anything.�

As the public meeting date approaches, Flynn and Moser hope to share as much information as possible with Wakonda School District residents.

�The the best of our ability, we want to let people know what this will do to their taxes,� Moser said. �And there�s still time for changes.�

�There�s no perfect plan,� Flynn said. �But we don�t think we�re asking for something unreasonable. We�re trying to be frugal in going after what we need � not over and above. After months and months of meetings we think this will serve our needs for the foreseeable future.�

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