Referendum for New Richardton-Taylor School Passes

RICHARDTON — The Richardton-Taylor school district is getting a new high school.

Residents of Richardton and Taylor voted on Tuesday night to approve a bond referendum during a special election, though the results were clearly split between the two towns.

Sixty-five percent voted in favor of the $2 million bond referendum for the $12 million project. Curiously, nineteen less voters approved of raising the district’s debt limit by 5 percent to help finance the project with a $10 million loan from the Bank of North Dakota.

“We’ve been working on this thing for two-and-a-half, three years,” Richardton-Taylor Superintendent Brent Bautz said late Tuesday night. “We’ve put a lot of hard work into it. It’s good to finally realize it’s coming to fruition.”

The bond referendum needed a 60 percent “yes” vote to pass. It was decided by just 28 votes.

Vote tallies showed Richardton voters overwhelmingly supported the project while Taylor residents opposed it.

Seventy-three percent of Richardton residents voted in favor of both the referendum and raising the debt limit. Only 43 percent of Taylor residents voted for the referendum and 40 percent voting to raise the debt limit.

Bautz said the district needed to raise the debt limit because the North Dakota Century Code would have only allowed the district to borrow 5 percent of its assessed value, which wouldn’t have been enough for the project. The approve allows the district to borrow 10 percent of its assessed value.

Bautz said the district would like to begin construction on the project next spring with a scheduled completion by summer 2018.

Richardton-Taylor’s administration and school board approached residents about a remodel earlier this year because of decay in the 55-year-old facility and as a long-term cost-cutting move.

The current high school building in Richardton holds grades 7-12. The elementary school in Taylor has grades 2-6. Pre-kindergarten through first-grade students are in the St. Mary’s Social Center Building in Richardton, which costs roughly $72,000 annually in lease payments and additional staff.

With the referendum passed, pre-K through first grade will move to Taylor and grades 5-12 will be placed in Richardton.

Permanent fix: Richardton-Taylor school officials propose $15 million remodel

Brent Bautz walks out of his office at Richardton-Taylor High School and points to the ceiling.

There, the school superintendent shows where brick is cracked, displaced and appears to be pulling away from wooden beams, some of which have large cracks in them.

The school building that houses the district’s 130-plus junior high and high school students is 55 years old and, Bautz and others believe, needs to be replaced.

“A lot of people, they don’t realize when you walk down the hall and you see that stuff,” Bautz said. “When people come here most of the time, it’s just for games. Of course we always want everything to look nice. People say, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong with the school, it looks fine.’ But foundationally, we have some issues.”

Bautz said Wednesday the school district is in the early stages of discussing a possible $15 million remodel of the existing school, which would include tearing down the south wing and reconstructing a two-level building in its place, and an almost complete overhaul of other parts of the building.

The project, which would require a bond issue, includes adding a multipurpose gym that could double as a cafeteria and commons area, a new band and choir room, a remodel of existing locker rooms, and a new secured entrance near administrative offices.

EAPC Architects Engineers, a Bismarck firm, recently finished a 40-page assessment of the building and described its issues in plain terms.

“In general, the high school buildings have significant structural and foundation deficiencies that include life safety concerns,” the firm wrote in its executive summary.

The report also found multiple areas of the school out of compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Duane Zent, Richardton-Taylor’s school board president and an area farmer, said the board believes the plan to tear down the south wing and build a new structure in its place is the most cost-effective way of ensuring the school’s future.

“The board feels like we need to build a new building because our building in such bad shape that to pour more money into it, it’s going to be an unending project and we’ll still have an old building at the end of the day,” Zent said.

Zent, who graduated from the school in 1976 when the building was just 15 years old, said he remembers hearing the school was meant to last 30 years.

“These old buildings are not designed for any of this,” he said.

Why the need

Despite the oil slowdown in western North Dakota, Richardton-Taylor’s enrollment remains up compared to five years ago and it’s still steadily growing with nearly 300 total students.

There are 134 kids in the 7-12 building, and 164 kids in grades K-6.

Preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders are in the old St. Mary’s Catholic School building in Richardton, which is leased by the district for thousands of dollars a month, and second- through sixth-graders are in Taylor. The junior high and high school students are in Richardton.

After a remodel, fifth grade and up would likely be sent to the Richardton school with the rest of the kids going to Taylor, which would also have air system improvements through the use of grants funding and mills, Bautz said.

“With the Taylor facility, structurally it’s fine,” Bautz said.

Richardton Mayor Frank Kirschenheiter said he’s a proponent of the remodel because the school system is a big reason why people choose to live in and around the community. Richardton-Taylor has a history of success in both its academic and athletic programs — notably Student Congress, speech, one-act play and, of course, football and basketball.

“Before the oil boom, the only draw we had to get people to town was that school system,” Kirschenheiter said. “It’s a school system that’s as good as any in the state and we have to keep it that way.”

However, Bautz, the board and city leaders like Kirschenheiter aren’t sure how taxpayers will react to the remodel plans, especially in the wake of the oil slowdown and current low ag commodity prices.

Alongside the school project, the city of Richardton may be faced with a large street reconstruction project in the near future that would require special assessments.

Minor street work in the town of about 550 people started three years ago, Kirschenheiter said, when cost estimates were much higher. Now that it’s easier to find engineers and contractors to do the work, the city wants to push forward with projects.

Like the school, the city’s streets were completed in the 1960s. Kirschenheiter said they’ve only had one chip-and-seal project done since.

“We don’t want it to be a burden on our taxpayers,” Bautz said of the proposed school project. “And that’s what’s so frustrating about it.”

Bautz and Zent said the school wants to have its plans for the remodel in order before they’re present to the public. No discussion for the project outside of regular board meetings has been set.

“We want to make sure … when we start going out and talking to the public that these are the right numbers, this is what we’re looking at, this is what it’s going to do to your taxes and that it’s a doable thing,” Bautz said.

Kirschenheiter, who said his grandfather told him “I paid for the school to educate you,” said he has similar feelings now that he’s in that position.

“It obviously is in need of repair,” Kirschenheiter said. “It has outlived its useful life in my opinion. Something has to happen.”

Technology changing how grain elevator operates

RURAL TAYLOR — When he first began working for Southwest Grain several years ago, Kent Candrian said there were days when he would walk about a mile or more at work — all of it in a 20-square-foot area.

Manning toggles and switches on a large wall switchboard, Candrian would make sure grain hauled to the Boyle Terminal between Gladstone and Taylor made it to the proper bins.

These days, Candrian still does that job. Instead, he sits in front of a bank of computer screens and does the majority of his work with the click of a mouse.

“I do everything in one spot,” said Candrian, a longtime driveway attendant for the CHS Inc. elevator. “Basically, it eliminates walking.”

Like many elevators, Southwest Grain has converted to automated systems that speed up its daily unloading of farmers’ trucks, its own loading of rail cars and also makes the lives of its employees easier.

“In the last four or five years, technology has advanced to the point where it just makes more sense because of the volume we do anymore,” Southwest Grain General Manager Delane Thom said. “It gets rid of some employee fatigue. It makes their job much easier and you can manage the whole system from one spot.”

Continue reading “Technology changing how grain elevator operates”

Rebels with a vision: Brothers open shop specializing in cylinder repair

Ryan Rebel, left, and Ross Rebel, right, show off one of their machines that repairs cylinder heads during a walkthrough of Rebel Customs on Feb. 6 in Taylor.

TAYLOR — Inside the newest building in this tiny town along Highway 10 sits Ryan Rebel’s pet project: a 1944 Ford pickup truck.

It’s nothing special yet, but the 21-year-old takes pride in it. He has been working on the truck since he was in high school.

As he stood back to describe and admire the truck — something of a collector’s item as World War II all but halted the production of Ford pickups that year — Ryan described what it takes to restore a vehicle like that.

“You’ve got to have a vision when you start something like that,” he said. “When you start with some frame rails on the garage floor, you’ve got to have something in your mind — what you want it to look like when you’re done.”

Continue reading “Rebels with a vision: Brothers open shop specializing in cylinder repair”