School officials in Wells seek state help

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2006

By Kari Lucin, Tribune staff writer

WELLS &045; United South Central School Board member Christie Wetzel spearheaded an effort Tuesday to convince Minnesota legislators to provide funds for USC’s falling-apart school building.

Rep. Tony Cornish introduced the legislation that would pay for almost half the cost of a new facility.

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USC’s high school and elementary school are in Wells. They share the same building. The middle school is Kiester.

The high school-and-elementary building in Wells is a hodgepodge construction from 1932, 1933, 1953, 1959 and1960. The newest additions were built in 1973, and the building as a whole is riddled with dead ends, stairwells leading nowhere and 1932 electrical wiring and pipes. The teachers teach computer skills to elementary students on Apple IIe computers from the 1980s.

Twenty-five people went to the Capitol in St. Paul to testify in front of the Education and Finance Committee as to the state of the school in Wells. They had just five minutes.

They explained that USC has attempted to pass a referendum to build a new school three separate times, most recently in December, when 42 percent of the voters were for the measure. The remaining 58 percent were enough to shut down the $24,675,000 project.

Voters refused the referendum because of the increase in property taxes it would have entailed, but some people speculate that inter-town rivalries over where the school would be located also prompted people to vote against the referendum.

&8220;If you look at the demographics of our county, this is not a wealthy county,&8221; Wetzel said. &8220;I think it should be an indication to the state of Minnesota that small rural schools need help.&8221;

The buildings are literally falling apart, Wetzel said. The school leaks when it rains, and ceiling tiles get wet and fall. When pipes leak &045; a frequent occurence &045; holes have to be made in the ceiling to repair them. The building’s main waterline dates from the 1930s and its inside is covered with rusty buildup.

The USC school’s request may be considered by the House Capital Investment Committee later this month, but until then, students and teachers alike will have to cope with leaking ceilings, poor air quality and circulation, old computers and small classrooms.

(Contact Kari Lucin at or 379-3444.)