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Proposed upgrades to the west side of Chamberlain's High School include new administration offices, a new theater and training spaces for the wrestling and gymnastics programs. (Artist rendering courtesy of the Chamberlain School District and Koch Hazard Architects)

Chamberlain looks at school upgrade project

News Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Chamberlain looks at school upgrade project
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

CHAMBERLAIN -- Eighteen months after a public vote failed for $13.2 million in facility upgrades at the Chamberlain High School, the school district is trying again.

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This time, the district will attempt to approve facility upgrades by maximizing its resources and avoiding a public vote.

The school prioritized a plan for a new 500-seat auditorium, upgraded career and technical education (CTE) space and training facilities for wrestling and gymnastics as part of a $7.5 million project. It's the first part of a three-phase, $12.6 million plan to be implemented over the next 15 years.

The district is attempting to use capital outlay funding (which is money specifically set aside for new equipment, buildings or property), grant money and more than $1 million in private donations to cover the cost. The Chamberlain School Board will likely vote on the matter this summer, and construction could start later this year.

"We really went back to the drawing board and looked at the aspects we really need," Chamberlain Superintendent Debbie Johnson said. "We know there's a majority that support it, but we didn't have the 60 percent."

The improvements were released to the public last week during a regular school board meeting by Sioux Falls architectural firm Koch Hazard, which laid out long-term plans for all of the school's facilities. The district hopes to hold two more public meetings before the school board vote is held, likely in June.

Johnson said the district does not need a public vote to confirm the project because there will not be a bond issue related to it. Instead, the project will be mostly funded through existing capital outlay funding, spending $3.5 million over 15 years. In addition to existing reserves and local foundation sources, the school hopes to raise $1.2 million of private funds to finish off the first phase.

"We'll always know it's a little different with private funding," Johnson said. "We have some people in the community who have experience with fundraising and we'll call on them to help us out on that. I think people are generally supportive of this."

The facility plan comes on the heels of a November 2012 bond issue vote for a $13.2 million fine arts and athletic event center for the school, which would have included 53,000 square feet for an auditorium, a gymnasium, a walking track and weight room. The vote required 60 percent voting in favor of the bond to pass. It received 54 percent.

Johnson said even though the vote did not pass, it still affirmed that there was public support for the project.

The district does not have a good space for performing arts, Johnson said, and is forced to use the city armory/gymnasium or a multipurpose room for concerts or productions. The school also has its administrative offices -- a building which is more than 90 years old.

The proposed project moves those offices to the high school as part of an addition.

The second phase of the plan calls for the district's sixth-grade students, who attend class in the elementary school, to move to the high school. That addition could take place between 2020 and 2022. A third phase includes building a 2,000-seat gymnasium and expanding the parking at the high school by 2027.

Koch Hazard recommended eventually moving all of the district's elementary students to the current high school site with a new addition. There is no timeline for that project, which the architects estimated to cost $9.5 million.

Johnson said the CTE program expansion could allow the school to bring back programs that were 2010 state funding cuts.

The CTE expansion includes a construction and architecture program, and more emphasis on health care and tourism, both important industries in the Chamberlain area.

"We should be giving our students opportunities to work in tourism, if possible, because it's such a big part of our economy here," Johnson said. "And we've found that a lot of our graduates go on to work in the health care field, so that's something that would be beneficial here."

Chamberlain's district has 897 students with a capacity for 1,028 students, according to architect data. But the school expects its total enrollment in all grades to stay around 900 students for the foreseeable future.

"That was a big part of our research," Johnson said. "We want to know what we're working with and it looks our enrollment should be pretty steady going forward."