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Why build now, why build in two phases, and why build an elementary first?


By Robin Honken

Fri, Dec 7th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Commentary

Submitted by Robin Honken, Ruth Peterson, Anne Spartz

Most of us know the issues with both the Peterson and Rushford Facilities. If you don’t, we ask that you request a tour of the buildings and see for yourself the crumbling walls, inefficient spaces, the dungeon-like rooms that house our preschoolers, the lack of bathrooms on the top level, small hallways and stairwells that would make it difficult to quickly exit in case of a fire, the small elevator that barely allows for wheelchair access, the difference in temperature from classroom to classroom. The list goes on and on. What we would like to focus on at this time however, is why build now, why build in two phases, and why build an elementary first.

Why build now? The last time the community invested in the R-P facilities was 43 years ago when the High School gymnasium was built. In addition, the current interest rates are at an all-time low. We’ve heard some say fix what we have. Certainly that is one option; however, this is a costly option. The School District has done a great job of maintaining and fixing what we have while still balancing the budget. One example of this was the installation of a $25,000 ventilation system in the wrestling room after mold was found last year and some wrestlers were getting ill during practice. But, the entire cost to renovate both facilities will run between $10-12 million in Rushford, and $1.7 million in Peterson, and then we will still have old, inefficient buildings. In order to fix what we have, we as local tax payers are going to have to foot the bill, and we still won’t see significant savings in the school district operating budget. Currently, we spend around $115,000 a year now just for electricity and heat for two facilities, which could be greatly reduced in one new energy efficient building. So, we have to ask ourselves, does that make sense?

Why build in two phases? The School Board, Administration, and members from the Facilities Task Force (volunteer local citizens) have spent countless hours researching and evaluating options, consulting with experts, visiting with and providing tours to state and local representatives, lobbying at the state, giving tours to local citizens, meeting with local businesses and groups, and much more. They have done their homework. There are some who wonder why not build the entire facility now, rather than in two phases? We would love to see that happen, but is that a likely option, and will the majority of tax payers support that? In 2007, the flood hit Rushford, which gave us an opportunity to ask the state for help. Due to a tight state budget, state money was not granted at that time to fund a new EC-12 building. While lobbying at the state level, individuals were asked, “When was the last time the R-P community invested in the school facilities?” The answer was 43 years ago. We’re certain that did not help our chances for state funding. So, now we are being asked as a community to fund a $15 million project that would allow for the first of two phases to be completed. The outlook of the state budget is much brighter than it was two years ago, which should also help our chances at obtaining additional funding.

Why build an elementary first? Again, after much research and consulting, it was recommended that building an elementary first will do the most to attract new people to town. A strong school district will help a community stay strong and grow. A growing community will see strong businesses and a larger tax base.

So, let us recap.

•It has been 43 years since we’ve invested in our school facilities and interest rates are at an all-time low, so it is time;

•Repairing the current facilities will cost millions, that we as tax payers will need to fund, and then we still have old, inefficient buildings;

•The plan to build in two phases will not tax the community as much as building all new now;

•Community support for phase one will be looked at more favorably by the state as we move towards phase two of this project;

•Building an elementary first will do more to attract new people to town, which will help the community and local economy grow.

Finally, let’s not forget about the kids who spend about 1,600 hours a year at school. We owe it to our children to provide them a safe, healthy environment to learn and grow, as well as opportunities to utilize advances in technology and the same up-to-date learning spaces that children in neighboring districts have. For more information on the referendum, including FAQ’s, myths, and the breakdown of costs to fund the new building, see this website, www.voteyesr-p.org, or come to the next open meeting on Dec. 10 at the High School cafeteria, please ask questions, get informed, and then VOTE YES on December 19.

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