Kelso School District preparing ballot measure to fund new school

Friday, December 4, 2009
A student at Kelso C-7 School in New Hamburg, Mo., walks toward the fifth-grade classroom, left, on Wednesday. The fifth-grade classroom must be walked through to reach the fourth-grade classroom. The first-grade classroom, right, must be walked through to reach the third-grade classroom beyond it. (Kit Doyle)

NEW HAMBURG, Mo. -- Eight distinction awards hang in frames above the classroom doors just inside the entrance of the Kelso School.

The award, given by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is based on Missouri Assessment Program testing. Superintendent Bill Rogers points to the awards as evidence to the learning that takes place in the small, aging school building. As the district works toward a bond issue to build a new school, it is running out of room to hang more awards on the entrance wall.

"They're learning a lot, but they don't have an ideal learning environment," he said.

The district has been saving money for years to set the wheels in motion to construct a new building. Since 2003, it has built up a fund of $750,000.

"Out of a small school, that's pretty savvy," Rogers said.

Dalton Bregantini, 6, drinks from the newest of several water sources Wednesday, December 2, 2009, at Kelso C-7 School in New Hamburg. The building was built in 1938 with several additions over the years, creating a less-than-typical layout. (Kit Doyle)

The district is also working to meet the Jan. 26 deadline to present a bond issue to voters for the April election.

"We're kind of pushing ourselves," said board president Gary Reischman.

The building has three stories and a basement and houses kindergarten through eighth grade, with each class averaging about 10 students.

Rogers said the small class sizes are an advantage but that the students reflect the work ethic of the community.

"They're leaders," he said. "They come out of here in good shape for high school."

Situated just south of Scott City and nestled between Oran, Chaffee and Benton, the Kelso School District has about 100 students. After eighth grade, the students enroll in area high schools.

The district rents its building from the Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and pays about $1,400 per month in rent. Constructed in 1938, the building was converted from a private to public school in the late 1960s.

The school's only set of bathrooms is on the first floor above the basement. A stairway, which connects the stacked levels, is frequented by students and staff. The close quarters also create problems with noise.

Some classrooms are connected. A pathway to the fourth-grade room travels through the fifth-grade room. Likewise, the first-grade room leads into the third-grade classroom.

Rogers said the building has adapted well to technology. Some of the classrooms have smartboards, and a lab has 11 computers.

The building has served the students well, Rogers said. But a new facility could offer more.

A steering committee started meeting during the summer. In September, the district distributed about 1,500 surveys to voters to gauge opinions about whether to renovate or rebuild. It received about 350 responses, mostly in favor of building a new school.

"I think people see the need," Reischman said.

Even with the possibility of a tax increase, he said, members of the community are generally in support of the issue. Rogers said he recently started working with Jackson architect John Dudley to calculate cost estimates. The district has a bonding capacity of about $3 million, and Rogers said he does not expect the project to reach that amount. Rogers said the board is weighing about five locations for the school throughout the district.

The district shares the cost of building maintenance and upkeep with the diocese. The community has also come together to make improvements to the facility. Reischman said about five volunteers revamped the cafeteria, music and art area during Thanksgiving break last year. Volunteers painted, repaired the ceiling, installed new lights and helped replace windows.

"We came in as soon as they dismissed classes," he said.

Rogers said he realizes the school has strong roots in the community.

"We would just like to get better facilities for our students," Rogers said.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1016 State Highway A Benton, MO

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