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Rapid City schools seek $250M bond for new buildings, infrastructure

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Rapid City schools are looking at financing a massive infrastructural overhaul by way of a $250 million bond issue that would raise property taxes.

New schools would be constructed, existing ones would be closed and district boundaries could be redrawn over the next three to six years as part of the proposed master plan for school facilities.

"We must have this conversation, and I understand that it's not going to be an easy conversation. I know that there are going to be some great supporters out there, and I know that there are going to be people that don't want to see their taxes raised," Superintendent Lori Simon said Monday, April 8. "But it's time, and we really must do something about our facilities, because doing nothing is not an option."

Officials estimate the bond will mean a tax increase of $2.37 for every $1,000 of a home's assessed value. An owner of a home worth $100,000 would, for example, pay an additional $237.26 in property taxes under the plan.

If approved by the school board, residents would have the opportunity to vote on the bond issue by referendum. A similar effort to opt out of the state property tax freeze, which would have raised $6 million a year for the schools over five years, was defeated at the ballot box in 2015 when residents voted against it 9,833 to 7,391.

Residents have not been asked to support a school bond issue in more than 45 years. Sioux Falls voters have in that same span of time approved three, the most recent in the fall for $190 million.

Faced with a growing student population, a lack of space to house them, and aging and deteriorating facilities, a task force made up of school administrative officials, school board members and district residents formed one year ago to craft the 10-year plan. Their work was partly informed by a private infrastructure study the district commissioned in 2015.

School board President Ron Riherd, a member of the task force, said no other board members have yet voiced opposition to the proposal. Board members Amy Policky and Matt Stephens also participated in the task force.

"We really don’t have any choice. We've got to do something, and the most intelligent thing we can do is try and get this bond issue passed,” Riherd said.

The first phase of task force's preliminary plan calls for the construction of three new elementary schools and the shuttering of three others. Two middle schools, South and West, would both be rebuilt where they stand.

That plan puts the cost of building the new facilities at $180 million. Renovating four middle and two high schools to incorporate space for computer labs, open classrooms and security features would cost another $70 million.

As part of a proposed $22 million renovation, Stevens High School would receive a new fine arts wing in place of its current one. Rapid City High needs $3 million in renovations.

Renovations of Pinedale, Meadowbrook, Knollwood and Black Hawk elementary schools are projected to cost a total of $15 million.

Finally, the bond would provide $30 million for "deferred maintenance" costs, which Simon said include space reconfiguration in several high and middle schools.

Funding the construction of new schools out of pocket is not viable considering the growth in school enrollment, Simon said.

"The small amount that we have in capital outlay funds only allows us to build a new building about once every 10 years, so the math just does not add up," she said.

Only the first phase of the master plan will be covered by the bond issue, Simon said. Funding for the second and third phases — which she said could involve additional bond issues — has not yet been secured.

A final recommendation from the task force is expected to be presented to the school board in June.