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McCook Central eyes new school

An artist’s rendering from Architecture Inc., of Sioux Falls and Rapid City, shows the proposed McCook Central middle and high school (center) in Salem. The $7.1 million project will be up for a public vote in June to pay for about 40 percent of the total cost. (Illustration courtesy of McCook Central School)

SALEM -- The wood roof structure is weakening and the clay tile walls of McCook Central's original high school building are crumbling.

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There's good reason for that. The building itself is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, built in 1924. With the oddly shaped classrooms and the dingy lighting having run their course, now the school is working on a more suitable replacement.

Voters in the school district will go to the polls in June to decide whether to build a $7.1 million facility, which would replace the 1924 building and bring the school into a modern building.

"It has more than served its purpose," McCook Central Superintendent Dan Swartos said. "It's time for us to get to work on a new building."

The vote itself will be regarding bonds to cover about 40 percent ($2.85 million) of the cost, as existing capital outlay funds will be used for the remainder ($4.25 million).

The building would be replaced with a two-story facility that would house the high school and middle school and would provide full access for those with disabilities, something Swartos said the school is in need of. The school would expand its concession and restroom areas outside of its existing gymnasium, add new special education classrooms, install a new weight room in the balcony of the gym and add air conditioning to the gym.

The new school would include a commons area that would double as a performance area for the school's band and choir that would seat up to 500 people. New band and choir rooms and new locker rooms are also part of the plans for the additions.

The project would be built in two phases, with new locker rooms and music rooms on the north side of the current gym starting construction in the spring of 2015, followed by the construction of the new high school in 2016. The school would likely vacate the building over Christmas break in 2015 and the school will likely use space at local churches in Salem for temporary classrooms while construction is being done. An ideal timeline could allow classes to begin in the new facility during the 2016-17 school year.

Swartos said the school board landed at the new building option because a renovation of the current building would cost at least $5.5 million. He said for a little more, the school would be able to maximize their bang for the buck.

The bond would be paid by taxpayers at 80 cents for every $1,000 in assessed value. That equates to $80 in taxes per year on a house valued at $100,000 and $200 per year on $250,000 worth of land.

While feedback from the community has been relatively positive, Swartos acknowledges that there may be some convincing needed on the taxes.

"I know that taxes are already high," he said. "But I know this is a really good investment for our school and this is certainly a need for us."

Swartos said now appears to be an opportune time to build a new school because interest rates are low and construction costs are manageable. He said a bond issue under a dollar is quite reasonable and it's quite common to see bond issues nearing $3.00. Public meetings will likely be held in the next few months about the project.

McCook Central has about 400 students in grades K-12 and even though it will see one of its smallest graduating classes this year with just 14 seniors, the school has between 35 and 40 students in the rest of its grades. Enrollment projections bear that out going forward, according to Swartos.

"Five years from now, our building may not able to have students in it anymore," he said, referencing potential condemnation of the building. "As a school district, we thought it would be prudent to look forward and see what we could do to set up our future."