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Editorial: Vote in favor of a new USC school

Published 10:14am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

We urge you to vote yes Tuesday for a new school for the United South Central School District for the students in the school now and the students the school will see in the future.

The current school building, which is cobbled together with construction ages of 1932, 1933 and 1961, is literally falling apart. Plumbing and air quality in the school is so bad that even if this vote doesn’t pass, the school will desperately have to find a way to fix it.

Though maintenance staff members have worked tirelessly to keep the building safe for students, there’s only so much they can do with a building that old. In fact, there are less than five schools in Minnesota that are older than the building in Wells.

The school district, comprising students from Wells, Easton, Bricelyn, Freeborn, Kiester and Walters, has tried and failed to pass referendums in the past. But the time is now. Interest rates are lower, and the building is only going to continue to age.

A yes vote would mean an increase in property taxes to pay for the almost $29 million needed to build a new school. And, yes, there was a cheaper option to remodel and add on to the old school, but it wasn’t much cheaper. The final cost was about $20 million, and the school board decided if they were going to ask for that much that they might as well try for a new building.

There is just too much wrong with the old building to keep trying to educate children there. Other inadequacies include deteriorating structure, lack of parking, no commons area, asbestos in the building and air quality that doesn’t meet code, among others.

A new building would do more than just be a great place to educate children. It would have space for the community to gather, much like Albert Lea High School lets the community use its commons, auditorium and gym for non-educational activities.

Then there’s the safety of the students — the gymnasium, classrooms and media center would be much larger and off-street parking would be another boon. Of course, the school would be better fit to educate students with new lab areas that would be more adaptable to technology.

Yes, like many rural schools, enrollment has been on the decline. But it’s easy to see that the aging facility would be a good reason to transfer to another district. Enrollment surely would increase if a brand new facility is built. A new building could even draw families or businesses to the area. Already one business, Bevcomm, has pledged a $100,000 donation toward technology because it supports building a new school.

It’s understandable when some district residents say a new building wouldn’t benefit them in any way and that it’s not worth the tax impact. But there’s always going to be a cost, whether it’s to major upgrades or, and this would be unfortunate, if the school were to close. Then there would be taxes to be paid to whatever district absorbs those students.

The bottom line is that the district’s divided residents need to take a cue from their name and unite to create a better environment for the school’s children.