Task force looking at RCW facility needs and central campus

RENVILLE -- A cyclone knocked down the Renville School building in 1894. The three-story building erected in its place collapsed in flames on Dec. 15, 1919.

RENVILLE -- A cyclone knocked down the Renville School building in 1894. The three-story building erected in its place collapsed in flames on Dec. 15, 1919.

Having had enough of that kind of luck, the Renville district invested nearly $300,000 on a building that would stand the test of time.

Its classic woodwork, spacious hallways and vaulted stairways remain a source of pride for the Renville County West School District.

But increasingly, the 1921 RCW High School building is also a source of concern.

Its troublesome, low-pressure steam heating system should be replaced with an efficient, hot-water system, according to a recent report for the district by Architect Mark Lenz, of MLA Architects in St. Paul.


The state fire marshal has a long list of concerns for the school, starting with installing sprinklers in the building to developing an egress system for the below-grade cafeteria.

Add to that a whole series of other issues: The electrical system is outdated; the single-pane windows are a source of heat loss and condensation problems; the corrosion-choked plumbing system is increasingly expensive to repair; classrooms are too small for modern educational standards; and the lack of handicapped accessibility to certain areas must be corrected.

And, that's just the start of the problems. The 1955 addition in Renville needs to be reroofed. The facilities in Sacred Heart -- including a portion of the elementary school built in 1901 -- have long lists of their own needs as well.

The district will need to invest a great deal of money into its facilities in the near future, or look at options for building new, said Superintendent Lance Bagstad as he led a tour through the high school building. It has the feel of walking through the belly of an aircraft carrier, he told school board members Dan Lippert and Eric Dahlager, who joined him.

They walked amid long rows of pipes and electrical conduit that snake along ceilings and walls, all evidence of the district's ongoing efforts to accommodate modern needs in an 86-year-old building.

The situation has led RCW to put its options on the table. Earlier this year, the district hired MLA Architects and appointed a 35-member task force.

The task force is charged with making a recommendation on what to do, while keeping in mind the goals of the district. School board members want to offer all of the educational programs on one campus, while continuing to maintain a separation between grades K-7 and 8-12.

The district foresees long-term operation as a two-section school, according to Bagstad. Enrollments are declining from just over 60 students per grade in the high school to over 40 students per grade in the elementary school.


The task force has set its own goal. It wants a long-term solution, and the one that is most cost-effective and taxpayer-friendly, according to Bagstad.

School board members are expecting a recommendation in either February or March.

Bagstad said that the options now on the table look at either developing the Renville or Sacred Heart sites as the central campus. There's one potential snag. The state requires that school district's offer a 40-acre site for a K-12 campus. Neither site is that large.

Bagstad is confident the district can get an exemption, largely because it has more than 40 acres of available space when its outdoor facilities in Danube and Sacred Heart are included in the total. He pointed out that the district has no intentions of abandoning the football facilities in Danube or the baseball facilities in Sacred Heart.

Lippert and Dahlager said what matters most of all is finding out what residents in the district believe is the best option. The costs for addressing the problems are an obvious concern, but they noted that the district is at a point where it must make some decisions.

"We can't stand still,'' said Lippert. The district has gone more than 30 years without a major investment in its facilities, he added.

Most people understand that the district has done all that it could to get the most out of its buildings, he said. He believes residents will support an investment in a future for the district.

Bagstad said the other option is not very appealing. Doing nothing to address the problems would eventually put the district at the point where its students would be attending school elsewhere. That is hardly going to spare taxpayers the expense of maintaining educational facilities, Lippert said. "You will be paying for a building somewhere else,'' he said.

What To Read Next
Get Local