$17M school bond election Tuesday

By: 
Jamie Hult, Staff writer
First day of school traffic was brisk between Robert Bennis Elementary and Brandon Valley Intermediate School. Voters will decide the fate of the district’s next elementary on Tuesday. Jill Meier/BV Journal

Sparta Elementary will resemble Robert Bennis and Fred Assam elementaries. “We really want it to look like a BV school,” said high school principal Mark Schlekeway. Image: Architecture Inc.

Voters to consider construction of Sparta Elementary, land purchase

Brandon Valley School District voters will head to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on a $17 million bond issue for a new K-4 elementary school.
The bond covers $16.25 million for construction and $750,000 for land acquisition at East 41st Street and South Sparta Avenue in the Sioux Falls portion of the school district – an area where Brandon Valley is seeing a lot of growth, noted Supt. Dr. Jarod Larson.
“Our increasing student enrollment necessitates a need for an additional elementary facility,” he said at last week’s school board meeting.
Sparta Elementary will not only mitigate BV’s elementary enrollment – the fastest-growing population of students in the district – but the new facility will also come at no extra cost to taxpayers.
The reason the BVSD is able to build a new school without affecting residents’ pocketbooks, Larson explained, is that this bond election coincides with the district’s last debt payment on Robert Bennis Elementary. 
“I believe we were at about 40 cents coming off, and if the bond passes, it’ll be about 38 cents or so going on, so again, no tax increase is estimated,” he said. 
Brandon Valley High School principal Mark Schlekeway talked about the need for the new school in Sioux Falls.
“If you have been down to the Sparta and 41st area – uffda – there’s a lot of houses going up,” Schlekeway said. “A lot of single-family homes with young kids, so we know that’s where the need is going to be.”
A successful bond election Sept. 10 would set construction crews to work in the spring of 2020, and Sparta Elementary would open in the fall of 2021.
The 82,000-square-foot is designed to resemble Robert Bennis and Fred Assam elementaries.
Schlekeway said it was important that Sparta Elementary be known as a Brandon Valley school.
“It’s practical, it’s effective, it takes on the Brandon Valley look, which was important, especially where it’s located in Sioux Falls,” he said. “We really wanted it to look like a BV school.”
 
Why Sparta Elementary?
Last fall, the facilities review committee found the district’s fastest growth is occurring in Sioux Falls. 
The 30-member group closely studied BV’s enrollment data and found the most pressing need was a new K-4 building in the southwest area of the school district.
The proposed site at East 41st Street and South Sparta Avenue is in Splitrock Township, adjacent to Six Mile Road and Harmodon Park, and 2.5 miles south of Fred Assam Elementary.
The newest of BV’s elementary schools, FAE is currently BV’s only school in the city limits of Sioux Falls.  
Enrollment there is 537 students. The trigger number is 510 students for a building designed to house 600 kids. 
That stat led the facilities review committee last fall to determine the 41st and Sparta site as the logical choice for BV’s next school – and the facility that voters will look at approving Tuesday.
Boundary line changes last fall also helped address BV’s growing Sioux Falls enrollment. The district adjusted the boundaries of Fred Assam and Brandon elementaries to help relieve capacity at FAE, which was 93 percent before 60 FAE students transferred to BE.   
“So instead of going out for a bond last year or the year before, we manipulated our elementary boundaries,” Larson explained. “We used our available space to maximize our current facilities.”
The Brandon Valley School District has laid out its plans for forthcoming facilities in a 40-year strategic plan called “BV Vision 2040.” It’s available on the BVSD’s website at brandonvalley.k12.sd.us.
The BVSD has held several public informational meetings in its “Vote Yes for Kids!” election campaign. Two meetings remain – one at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Brandon Elementary and another on Friday during Fred Assam Elementary’s family fun night at 7 p.m. 
“If you support it, you have to get out and vote,” Schlekeway said. “I think my biggest fear is everyone assumes it’s going to pass because all of our bond issues have passed in the past; don’t assume anything. Get out and vote.”
Precincts and sites will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and are as follows:
Precinct 1 – Valley Springs – Valley Springs Elementary music room: City of Valley Springs, Valley Springs and Red Rock townships;
Precinct 2 – Brandon – Brandon Valley High School community room: City of Brandon, Brandon and Mapleton townships and those portions of Sverdrup and Edison townships that lie in the school district;
Precinct 3 – Splitrock Township – Fred Assam Elementary gym: Splitrock Township and those portions of Sioux Falls Township in the school district. 
 
What’s next
Following a successful bond election for Sparta Elementary, Larson said the next build will be an elementary in east Brandon on district-owned land.
The BVSD is also now in the process of closing on two more properties, which won’t be developed for several years, he said.
Earmarked as a west-side elementary, the first piece of land is between Madison and Maple streets west of Hwy. 100. 
The second land acquisition, on which the district will close this fall, is just south of Sparta Elementary and intended as a future intermediate school. 
Brandon Valley went back to school Aug. 21 with an estimated 4,435 students. 
The district has grown by more than 1,000 students in the past 10 years. In the 2009-10 school year, enrollment was 3,227.

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