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Andes Central School Board President Debbie Houseman speaks to a small crowd during a groundbreaking ceremony for the district's $13 million expansion Wednesday evening in Lake Andes. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

South Dakota's Andes Central breaks ground on $13M expansion

LAKE ANDES, S.D. — For Andes Central school officials, the start of a multi-million dollar project marks the culmination of a decade of dreaming.

A $13 million expansion in the district kicked off with a Wednesday groundbreaking ceremony, and with a Lake Andes population of 833, it will equate to approximately $15,600 per resident. And locals say the project is well worthwhile.

"We started talking about doing this 10 years ago, so when I say it's a relief, I really do mean it's a big relief it's finally happening," Andes Central School Board President Debbie Houseman said. "Everything is really becoming a reality."

The groundbreaking marked the official beginning of the project that will add 55,000 square feet to the elementary school while also remodeling 24,000 square feet, and is expected to be completed in time for the 2018-19 school year. The high school, currently located several blocks from the elementary school, will likely be repurposed or sold, according to school board members, as high school classes will move into the expansion.

In a rural community often riddled with crime and poverty, the Charles Mix County town is happy to turn attention to its building project that Houseman said draws a focus to the district's commitment to progressiveness and providing students with the highest possible quality of education.

"As a school board, our job is to provide a secure, safe education for all students, so regardless of what's going on around us, our priority is that school," Houseman said. "There's nothing more exciting than putting a brand new building in and, hopefully, it will make people take a little more pride in our community and respect things a little more — you don't know that that's what's going to happen, but that's what you hope for."

Included in the designs are 13 new classrooms, restrooms, speciality rooms, administrative offices, a courtyard, two new gymnasiums and various other amenities. Also included in the preliminary designs is a "secured entrance," which creates a main point of entry for patrons entering the school during classroom hours. The secured entrance will be located near the administrative offices on the south end of the school.

To fund the expansion and reconstruction, the district plans to take $6 million from its reserve funds, and has secured a loan through the United States Department of Agriculture with a 3.375 percent interest rate over a 20-year period, which will fund the remainder of the project.

And the money will be well spent, Superintendent Debera Lucas said.

Connecting the buildings will enable mentoring programs between young and old students, Lucas said, and the design will allow for course expansion.

"I believe that the school and community of Andes Central are committed to building strong relationships," Lucas said. "This will assist in providing a greater awareness of the possibilities our community has to offer."