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Burke school seeks next step after nearly $60K in donations

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Workers on the roof of the Burke School District's middle school addition are pictured Aug. 12 following the EF-1 tornado that hit on Tuesday, Aug. 6. (Matt Gade / Republic)

BURKE — Fellow students and supporters from all across South Dakota showed their generosity to the Burke School District following the tornado on Aug. 6.

The school district received nearly $60,000 in donations, according to Burke Superintendent Erik Person on Monday. Now the district is trying to figure out what constitutes the best use of those funds.

The Burke School Board will meet on Wednesday to start deciding how to spend those donation funds, Person said. More than likely, the donated money will go toward filling in some gaps that aren’t necessarily covered by insurance in rebuilding the district’s school complex, which was heavily damaged by the EF-1 tornado that landed in the center of town just before 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 6.

“It’s a timely question, because it’s going to be a discussion topic,” Person said. “Our insurers have really gone above and beyond to meet our needs. But just like anything, we’re running into some items and some cost overruns that insurance won’t cover.”

The largest share of the donations — $25,000 — came through an anonymous donor, Person said. More than $20,000 has been collected through donations from fellow schools around South Dakota and northern Nebraska, while receiving “big chunks” from other individuals.

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Person said one possible example of work to be done is that the district has had old vinyl windows in its elementary building that have developed cracks and are letting water through.

“We’ve already put a new vapor barrier on and new exterior siding, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have everything buttoned up tight and then keep leaky windows,” he said. “That’s not something we budgeted for and it’s not an insurance claim.”

Another potential fix is adding central air conditioning to the parts of the building that are getting new heating, ventilation and air conditioning replaced.

“Nobody is going to be building a new building in 2019 in South Dakota without central air units,” Person said. “In our building, we’ve always had wall unit air conditioning, and the insurance companies will pay to replace that. But you probably need a central air system to do it right, and that will require some out-of-pocket (spending). We know that if we do things right, it could cost us some additional money but there’s some gaps in things that make sense to upgrade.”

Person said both of the district’s buildings are now enclosed and guarded against the weather, and within a month, the buildings’ exteriors “will look more like the finished product.”

There hasn’t been a firm date of completion set for work on the school, but Person said he’s expecting the majority of the work to be completed by the end of the current school year. That will include another seven days added to the school year after a two-week late start. Graduation will take place May 16, the final day of school will be May 27, and Burke will still have room for a few snow days, the school said.

There have been other battles for Burke, as well. For example, every student laptop in the school district was destroyed by the storm. The district previously had essentially one laptop for every student from elementary to high school. Person said the district used a “triage” approach, getting laptops to the students who needed them the most as fast as possible.

“We had kids who were taking dual credit and online classes and had to have a laptop two weeks before school started,” he said. “So we tried to knock out the most critical needs … it was a strain on our staff and students, but everyone has been really resilient.”

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There’s also organizing being done to build a new playground at Burke’s elementary school. Person said that school officials had looked at a new playground before the tornado, and then after the storm, several pieces of equipment had to be replaced.

“It was already in the works, but now the storm is really a catalyst,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty dramatic redesign.”

Person said prior to the storm, school officials had begun to look at how to upgrade their buildings to the point where they were both functional and in good shape to last the next 30 years. The tornado has accelerated that track, he said.

“We might have to add additional classroom space and make some upgrades that aren’t storm related, but that same goal of having functional and good use of space for the next 30 years is the goal,” Person said. “It’s been a lot of work, but we really feel blessed.”

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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