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‘This has been a long time coming.’ Chamberlain breaks ground for new elementary school

Work already underway on new building, Tuesday bond vote to determine fate of gymnasium, track

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Officials with the Chamberlain School District, along with Chamberlain and Oacoma community leaders and construction officials, break ground for the new district elementary school building Wednesday, Sept. 7 in Chamberlain. The district is hoping for approval from voters on a bond issue that will allow for additional district improvements to be completed in a timely manner. That vote is set for Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
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CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — There were a lot of smiles in Chamberlain Wednesday evening.

After decades of planning and stalled attempts, the Chamberlain School District broke ground on a new elementary school building, ceremoniously setting in motion a project that is expected to serve students and staff for decades to come.

“This has been a long time coming,” Keith Reuer, president of the Chamberlain Board of Education, told the crowd of about 175 people. “Through the years we’ve added on and added on, and now we have the final piece of the puzzle.”

Talk of new elementary facilities for the school reaches back as far as 1972, when the land on which the new building will stand was purchased. As years passed, the need for an upgraded facility became clear, but it wasn’t always easy to move the project forward. A bond vote to build a new school failed in 1996, but school leaders kept their eye to the future and over the last few years have assembled a plan to get the building constructed.

More recently, the district weighed plans to either upgrade its current elementary school or build new, and in the end opted for a completely new, $28.7 million student-focused building using a combination of an issuance of capital outlay certificates, federal COVID-19 relief dollars and other district funds.

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The project has undergone changes since the plans were finalized — a bond issue vote set for Tuesday will determine just how much more of a larger expansion project gets done and when — but as community members, district leaders and construction officials plunged gold-tinted shovels into the dirt Wednesday, the elementary school portion of a larger expansion project was officially underway.

New school for the future

“We had our first construction meeting Tuesday,” Justin Zajic, superintendent for the Chamberlain School District, said following the groundbreaking. “And we’re right on time. We’re hoping that our new parking lot will be done in the next few weeks so students won’t have to walk so far, and we’re working to dig the trenches for the foundation in the next month or so.”

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Keith Reuer, president of the Chamberlain Board of Education, speaks Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2022, during the groundbreaking ceremony for a new elementary school building.

Focusing on a modern, innovative design — and guided by the results of a survey that brainstormed ideas — the district formed a committee of staff and a representative from each grade level to look into the details of the building while meeting with architects. The design is expected to enhance the learning experience of the 430 K-12 students who will call the building home during their elementary years.

The new building has been a joint effort of many, including school district employees, parents, the cities of Chamberlain and Oacoma, the business communities of both towns as well as the St. Joseph’s Indian School, all of which have contributed input and in some cases outright funding.

Chad Mutziger, mayor of Chamberlain, said the new elementary school is a sign that the greater Chamberlain area understands the importance a strong school system plays in the vitality of a community.

“I look at a school system as the heart of a community. If you have a healthy school system, you have a healthy community, just like if you have a healthy heart, you have a healthy body,” Mutziger said. “What they’re doing here at the school is just increasing what we have in our community and creating a school that will live forever.”

He said building the new school is building for the future generations that will pass through its halls.

“My kids are past the age that they will see this, but looking out here and seeing all these young kids out here, they’re the ones who are going to benefit from it,” Mutziger said.

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Chad Mutziger, mayor of Chamberlain, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for a new elementary school building Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Erica Zimprich, president of the Chamberlain Elementary School PTO, has three children attending Chamberlain Elementary School, and can trace her family connection to the district back for generations.

“You can say I was born into the Chamberlain Elementary family. My mother started her 38th year as an educator at Chamberlain Elementary School just this past month. I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” Zimprich said.

She said her organization has worked closely with staff, students and community members on helping guide school leaders on the new project, which she feels will greatly benefit the entire Chamberlain School District family.

“Through our work with those three very important groups of people, I feel like I have the authority to say you couldn’t find a more deserving group of people or a more deserving community for a project of this magnitude and a project with this excitement behind it,” Zimprich said. “This (event) is a fun way for us to say thank you for those who have paved the way before us, and it’s a huge endorsement in confidence in our current educators and staff who work tirelessly every day to not just teach the ABCs and 123s, but to really offer them the love and guidance and support they need to be the best little versions of themselves they can be.”

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The Chamberlain School District broke ground on a new elementary school building Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022 in Chamberlain. District officials are expecting the new building to house its elementary programs for decades to come. Pictured from right to left are Paisley Zimprich, Shailey Fletcher and Rhett Zimprich.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Bond vote to determine timeline of gymnasium

The new elementary school is just one part of a larger expansion project that has run into cost overruns due to inflation and rising prices in the construction industry.

Originally planned with a competition gymnasium along with improvements to the track and field complex and the fine arts department, construction cost increases have led the district to seek a bond issue after it initially thought it could complete the full scope of the project without one. The district is now asking voters to approve a bond issue for up to $5.5 million to help cover the increased costs to complete the rest of the project.

That vote is set for Tuesday, Sept. 13 and, like all bond issues of this type, it will require a 60% approval at the polls. Should the bond issue fail, it could be as long as a decade before the additional improvements are completed, Zajic said.

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Chamberlain School District and community representatives were on hand Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022 in Chamberlain to officially break ground on a new district elementary school building.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Reuer said he’s grateful for past board leadership on the project and that the improvements are a cause worthy enough for which to have to endure a tax increase.

“Nobody likes to talk about raising taxes or doing any of that stuff, but you know what guys? I think we need to get this done,” Reuer said. “The board is excited about it, both cities are excited about it. We’ve worked long and hard on this thing, there’s a lot that has been done and I think we have a really good project. A lot of boards prior to us have gotten us to where we are now, and I thanked all of them.”

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A bond issue vote for improvements at the Chamberlain School District is set for Tuesday, Sept. 13. The bond issue will need 60% approval from district voters.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Mutziger agreed.

“As Keith said, nobody loves new taxes. But you know what? For the benefit of our community, what they’re doing here is something that will last for years to come,” Mutziger said.

The elementary school is on the way, now the rest of the project is in the hands of the voters. Early voting has been going on at the Chamberlain School District business office and will continue through Monday, Sept. 12. Business office hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Voting on Tuesday, Sept. 13 will take place at the Chamberlain Community Center, the Fort Thompson Community Center and the Oacoma Community Center. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Support for the bond issue appears strong, Zajic said, and he hopes those supporters turn up at the polls Tuesday to push it through. It’s all for the benefit of the students in the district, he said, and the full project will help take current and future Cubs far into the future.

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Voters in the Chamberlain School District will head to the polls Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 to decide whether to pass a bond issue to help the district with building and facilities improvements. Early voting has already begun at the district business office. The district officially broke ground on the elementary school portion of the project Wednesday, Sept. 7, in Chamberlain.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“The support is nice, but what we’re really hoping for is that everyone comes out and votes on Tuesday. Generally what happens with bond votes like this is everybody supports it and then they forget to show up Tuesday,” Zajic said. “We’re really hoping people will come out and vote and support it.”

More details on the bond issue can be found at bondissue.org/chamberlain/ .

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Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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