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Wessington Springs official stands beside proposed renovation, addition

A sign in the Wessington Springs School District. (Republic file photo)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS — As the future of two projects hang in the balance of a late November bond election, so does the Wessington Springs School District's capital outlay fund.

Two separate projects will be on the ballot Nov. 28 for Wessington Springs residents to vote on. First is $4.5 million in high school renovations, and the second is the construction of a $1.7 million auxiliary gym.

While the school district is asking for the full $4.5 million for the high school project, it is only asking for $1 million for the auxiliary gym, with the remaining $700,000 to come from capital outlay funds, should the project be approved by voters.

And should the auxiliary project not pass with a supermajority — 60 percent — of voters, and the high school project pass, School Board President Todd Grohs said it's possible a portion of the $700,000 in capital outlay funds could be used to fund the high school renovations. That decision would be left to the board, should the situation arise, he said.

"If the gym doesn't pass, common sense says we would do that, but that's a board decision," Grohs said during a public meeting Monday night to discuss the projects.

The high school renovations would include HVAC, electrical, plumbing, bathrooms, installation of an elevator, flooring, windows and fire sprinklers as well as rearranging some classrooms. The auxiliary gym would be attached to the existing gym at the elementary school.

The $1.7 million gym could be used for sports, community events and other meetings and events, school officials said.

The addition of the auxiliary gym could also allow the district to host athletic tournaments, which would draw more people into town. Those people would likely buy concessions at the events, Grohs said, but he said those funds wouldn't support the project.

"That won't pay for this — I can't sell enough hot dogs," Grohs said. "... But people come to town for those things and nobody moves to a town just because they saw it on a map, they do it because they see the town and like it. If it brings a family here, yeah, maybe then it pays for it."

And as debate about the project continues to create rifts in the community, Grohs fired back at accusations the board did not do its due diligence in settling on a proposed project.

A group of Wessington Springs residents have rallied together to deny the bond election, citing an interest in a separate project that would replace "all things mechanical" in the school, lessening the scope of the project. And while Wessington Springs resident Clay Wenzel said the board should have considered the project, Grohs explained it does not encompass all components the board feels are necessary to fix.

"If we're doing a project of this size, we need to do it right," Grohs said. "We didn't feel that was the right avenue to take the school down."

According to school officials, the tax levy would apply to all Jerauld County residents, but only residents of the Wessington Springs School District can vote in next week's election.

"I think it's a turning point for our community," Grohs said. "Regardless of what side you're on, we just want to encourage everybody to go vote, but make an educated vote."