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School board mulls housing, modular classrooms

Posted 6/23/15 (Tue)

By Jody Michael
The Divide County School Board voted at its June 16 meeting to purchase a three-bedroom dwelling from St. Luke’s Community Foundation for $166,000, mostly in grant money, to add to its housing supply.
Superintendent Sherlock Hirning said he’d previously expressed interest to the foundation in purchasing one of its homes if it became available.
“I was called, and we visited about it and talked about price back and forth,” Hirning said.
Board members were supportive of the deal.
“It’s a good location, it’s a nice lot and it’s resellable,” Holly Krecklau said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Steve Feil added. “We’ve been looking for something like this.”
With six teachers still to hire this summer and four current faculty members seeking school-provided housing, the district will be looking to secure even more units before classes resume.
But an offer to purchase a house that Ken Krebsbach is renovating into a triplex received a hesitant response from board members later in the meeting.
While the St. Luke’s housing purchase will be almost entirely with grant money, the Krebsbach property, likely to cost $320,000, would not, and additional energy impact grants coming to the district later this year cannot go toward housing.
With major school repair expenses also looming -- a proposed building levy increase was on the ballot Tuesday -- board members wondered whether the district should instead rent other available housing units in town rather than purchasing anything further.
“There are so many needs that we have that we’re trying to deal with,” Krecklau said. “Where are we going to get the money for this at, plus what we need to fix the school?”
But the board also acknowledged that turning down an offer for housing could prove regrettable.
“I just know what a rat race it is to try to find housing,” Feil said. “It consumes all your time.”
Hirning suggested some board members tour the site ahead of revisiting the issue at their next two meetings, on Monday and July 14.
A modular middle school?
The district is also considering modular classrooms as a makeshift means of adding instructional space.
Hirning said he recently toured a modular classroom building that had been in use at Tioga’s elementary school during its expansion project.
“They’re pretty decent classrooms,” Hirning said. “When you’re inside them, you don’t even realize they’re a modular classroom, really.”
Each classroom is 28 feet by 30 feet, and the unit also includes restrooms and two offices.
The company is offering a monthly lease of $5,452 for the entire 10-classroom unit, or a purchase price of $393,995. Hirning said he would only have interest in obtaining four or six classrooms at most.
“If we wanted to bring in something like this to get us into a middle school -- move sixth grade to the high school -- it’s feasible,” Hirning said. “It could be done.”
A plan to build a middle school adjacent to the high school, as part of a proposed $20 million building project, has been in limbo after voters rejected the measure in April.
“I wouldn’t recommend this being a long-term solution for the next 50 years,” Hirning said, “but maybe it’s a short-term solution. It’s food for thought.”
“I think it’s something we seriously need to look at,” Feil responded, “because we need the room.”
Hirning said he is also expecting modular classroom bids from two other companies. If the district were to pursue this option, he said they could be ready for use as early as the end of the first quarter.