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RCW board votes to consolidate all grades in one school building

RENVILLE -- The Renville County West School Board voted 6-to-1 Thursday night to move its elementary students from Sacred Heart to the school building in Renville before the next school year.

The board first defeated an effort to make the transition over two years on a vote of 2-to-5.

A majority of the board approved moving all grades at once. David Hamre was the only member to vote against it. Hamre had proposed the two-year transition.

About 15 people attended the meeting Thursday in the high school gym in Renville. The board had conducted several earlier public meetings to discuss the proposed move.

Board members spent about an hour discussing the alternatives before making a final decision.

The School Board has had a long-standing goal of moving all students into one building. The board had asked the voters to approve a new building for grades K-12, but it was rejected last fall.

The board also voted Thursday to close the current elementary school in Sacred Heart in a year. The plan to keep the building operational for another year will allow the district to use some of the athletic facilities and will give the community of Sacred Heart some time to develop a plan for the building, board members said.

The two-year transition plan would have moved grades 5 and 6 to the Renville building for the 2009-10 school year and grades K-4 a year later. The Renville school already houses grades 7-12.

RCW Superintendent Lance Bagstad said a two-year transition would add about $30,000 to the estimated cost of moving everyone in one year.

"The longer we spread this out, the more it's going to cost us," said board chairman Darin Bratsch. "Do we want to spend $85,000 now or $115,000 over two years?"

The district expects to save $100,000 or more by moving students out of the Sacred Heart building. Utility consumption would be greatly reduced, as would transportation and staff costs.

Hamre said he felt the district would "squish" children into one building a year sooner than necessary. He said he proposed a two-year transition because it would give students and the district more time to adjust to the move.

"I believe it's the right thing for our kids," he said.

Hamre was on the board when the Danube middle school was closed in 2005. "It's a sad thing to close a building," he said. "I hoped I'd never have to do it again."

Several board members talked about the district's two aging buildings which are operating at half capacity. Both buildings need numerous repairs.

"It's going to be easier to fix one than two," said board member Jeremy Hebrink.

Hebrink said he was also concerned about saving money and being able to preserve the curriculum.

"The sooner we can save money, the more we can spend on the kids in the future," said board member Mark Molenaar.

After the board had voted on moving the elementary programs and on closing the Sacred Heart building in a year, Bratsch commended the board for "tackling these difficult decisions."

When such decisions are made in a school district, he said, "We feel the pain border to border."

Board member Rick Marks said, "I think RCW is the leader in the area for making tough decisions." Other districts in the area are faced with building issues and are not acting, he added.

Molenaar said it didn't make sense to keep operating two buildings at half capacity -- "no business can operate that way."