RUSSELL - Building questions linger for the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton School District - especially the question of which of several proposed renovation plans to choose for the district's three schools. At a meeting of the RTR School Board in Russell on Monday night, district taxpayers expressed differing opinions on how to proceed.
One group of taxpayers, represented by attorney Kevin Stroup, presented a petition disagreeing with the building options presented to the public. Stroup said petitioners thought it didn't make sense to keep spending to renovate all three schools in the district.
"The board needs to look at what is the most practical in the long term," Stroup said.
In August, architects presented several possible building options to an audience of more than 300 people. The RTR Middle School in Russell received extensive repairs after the severe storms of July 1, 2011, but the high school in Tyler and the elementary school in Ruthton have issues of their own.
The options presented to the public included renovating and addressing building deficiencies at the Tyler and Ruthton schools, as well as tearing down the oldest portions of the high school building in Tyler. Estimated costs for the projects ranged from $8.45 million to $14.9 million. RTR Superintendent Bruce Houck said members of the RTR School Board Building Committee recommended "Option J," an $11.54 million plan that would involve tearing down the 1923 portion of the high school and building a classroom addition.
There were also two options that were presented for cost comparison purposes but were not on the table. One involved closing the Ruthton school building and adding elementary classrooms in Tyler, and the other called for the Ruthton and Russell buildings to be closed, the high school torn down and a single K-12 building to be constructed in Tyler. Houck said under RTR's consolidation agreement, the Russell and Ruthton buildings can't be closed unless enrollment is at or below 450 and 470 students.
Stroup said the people signing the petition - about 550 residents of Tyler, Russell and Ruthton - wanted to examine that statement. He said the RTR consolidation plan approved in 2006, "has no language in it indicating that you cannot close schools." Stroup also claimed enrollment levels within the district have already fallen below 450 students.
Michelle Kenney, an attorney representing the school board, was present throughout Monday's meeting. School board chairman Paul Henriksen said Kenney had advised the board only to listen to Stroup and not to discuss the petition at that time.
During the public forum of the meeting, members of the public had a wide range of concerns on the building plans. Several said they wanted better information on how the options would affect their property taxes, especially with farmland values so high right now. Some audience members expressed support for the "Option J" renovations, while other said they thought the burden of a new building project would be too much.