School board praises SALC then discusses closing elementaries

A few weeks ago, Howard-Winneshiek School Board Director James Kitchen, left, and Superintendent John Carver looked over some areas in the Lime Springs-Chester Elementary deemed in need of repair or replacement.

A few weeks ago, Howard-Winneshiek School Board Director James Kitchen, left, and Superintendent John Carver looked over some areas in the Lime Springs-Chester Elementary deemed in need of repair or replacement.

By Marcie Klomp

Lime Springs residents have been working on getting Spring Ahead Learning Center open for five-and-a-half years, and its opening day was just a week away when Supt. John Carver dropped the “C” bomb . . . closing, at the Jan. 28 school board meeting, held at the Lime Springs-Chester Elementary School.

After a walk-through of both buildings, Board president Duane Bodermann said of SALC, “It’ll be a real positive for everyone. I was really impressed. Elma (learning center) is considerably smaller, but it had a smaller budget.”

The tornado-safe facility can handle up to 64 children altogether in the day-care and preschool areas. Its first day of operation was Feb. 4.

Talk then turned to the elementary building.

A Facility Assessment Report was presented to the board in December from SVPA, an architectural firm hired to evaluate all the buildings in the Howard-Winneshiek district. It gave some ugly numbers on what it would cost to fix the buildings. To see the entire report, go to http://www.howard-winn.k12.ia.us/ then click on H-W Facility Assessment Report.

If all the recommendations (these are not requirements) were achieved, it would cost the district a minimum of $5.2 million. Divided out, the buildings would cost:

High school: $1.8-2.3 million

Cresco K-8: $525,000-690,000

Cresco Early Childhood Center: $18,000-28,000

Bus Maintenance Building: $95,000-125,000

NICC: $20,000-30,000

Old Bus Barn: $10,000-20,000

Stadium/Track: $770,000-955,000

Elma: $230,000-290,000

LS-C: $1,735,000-2,100,000

Most of the expense ($1.3-1.5 million) for Lime Springs-Chester Elementary is to tear down and replace the gym/cafeteria/library.

Carver admitted, “This is why we need a full-time facilities director. If the things we saw this evening were addressed seven years ago, we may not be in the position we’re in now.”

Bodermann added, “When we’re talking facilities, it causes anxiety. Everyone here, this board, has high integrity. We want to be innovative. We need to work as a team and be part of the Howard-Winneshiek School District. We want what’s best for all our kids.”

Carver declared, “Rural Iowa faces a real challenge—how to provide our kids with a 21st century education. This district is at a crossroads. The board needs to let me know how to go forward.”

He explained the four options he feels need to be addressed:

1) Keep all campuses open and make necessary repairs;

2) Consolidate Elma Elementary into Lime Springs/Chester Elementary or visa versa, with all present grades staying in Cresco;

3) Consolidate all campuses to Cresco; or

4) Consolidate Elma Elementary and Lime Springs/Chester Elementary into a new facility at a different location. The location mentioned several times was Davis Corners.

Carver said, “I’m telling you now, I do not recommend closing any buildings in 2013-14. But we need to start planning for 2014-15.”

He mentioned one of the things to think about when keeping schools open or opening a different facility is enrollment. “There has been a decline of 20 kids per year over the last seven years. We can’t continue as we have in the past.”

Carver believes the brand new Spring Ahead Learning Center will survive in Lime Springs even if the students move to Davis Corners. “If we bring jobs to the region, people will look for good childcare facilities and preschools,” he announced.

Lime Springs-Chester board representative James Kitchen noted, “I represent you guys here. I’m happy to talk to anybody. Ask me questions. Let me know how you feel—Elma at Davis Corners; Lime Springs at Davis Corners; maybe Riceville at Davis Corners. We need to provide a service.”

Director Scott Fortune added, “One thing we have to do is break the paradigm about what our school is. We have to look at what the schools of H-W of 2020 will look like. We need more input.”

Carver noted, “I don’t think there is a model. We are literally creating something we haven’t seen. We cannot continue to do what we’re doing.” He then told audience members to get informed. “Talk to your relatives in other states to see what they’re doing.”

Kitchen volunteered, “This isn’t Cresco vs. Lime Springs vs. Elma.”

Doug Berg wanted to know what the audience thought. He observed, “We need to change our open forum to the end so they (the audience) can talk to us.” Nobody spoke at open forum at the beginning of the meeting. Speakers need to sign up and are allowed a maximum of five minutes to speak. An individual attending said she was not prepared to speak on the closing of the facility as she didn’t know that it was an immediate issue.

A decision will need to be made in the next few months to give the superintendent enough time to start making plans.

A board work session will be held at Elma Elementary where issues will be heard on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7:00 p.m.

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