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Articles about Damage to Rolfe School

These articles are approximately in chronological order.

Taylor's topics
By Brooks Taylor, editor and co-publisher

Several years ago I congratulated a newly elected city council member, adding that I didn't know whether to extend my congratulations or sympathy.

He chuckled and said, "I just hope for four smooth years."

His hopes rivaled those of many elected to city councils, school boards, hospital boards and county supervisor boards. Rarely, can an elected candidate escape a healthy dose of controversy.

That's why business owners are reluctant to run for office. They fear that some decisions they make may cost them business. In his farewell remarks a couple of months ago, departing Pocahontas Mayor Lowell Pedersen thanked local businessmen and women who served on the council during his tenure.

He said he really admired their willingness to serve because "council service did cost them some business."

When I decided to run for City Council, a good friend from a past life told me that if elected, I would lose some business. I agreed that if Pocahontas didn't show some growth, both business and residential, soon, I would lose more business.

Like the aforementioned council member, I, too, hope for more smooth sails than waves but know full well that I am not going to have tailwinds throughout my journey.

Today, I am thankful that I am serving on the city council rather than the school board. That may change in the months ahead, but the school board has a no-win dilemma — what to do about the Rolfe Middle School — on its hands.

It's a darn if you do, darn if you don't situation.

Losing a school takes the major lifeline away from a community. A Rolfe resident said that if the school were to close, he could think of three businesses that would follow.

No one, regardless of what county community they call home, wants to see a county community wither and die and another mass exodus of residents from the county. Pocahontas County led the state in population decline in the 1990s, we don't want that dubious distinction again.

As a parent, I don't like the idea of my seventh-grade daughter sharing a building with high school seniors, but I must accept it on a temporary basis.

On the other side of the coin are two factors — financial prudence and the fact that the district is losing 30 students a year.

How much money do you put into an aging building? Can the building be saved by removing the third floor? Could the school be saved by razing the existing building and constructing a metal building?

Enrollment  projections compiled by the Iowa Department of Education show that during the 2008-09 school year, the Pocahontas Area Community School District will have 489 students. Twenty-seven percent of the census will be included in two classes — 11th and 12th grades — with 62 and 68 students, respectively. Currently, those two classes are the sixth and seventh grades.

During the 2008-09 school year, five of the 13 grades will have less than 30 students — all but the junior and senior classes will have less than 45 students.

Granted, some new business and industry could alter those figures greatly. However, without a shot in the arm, the projections are frightening. It would be extremely difficult and virtually impossible to continue maintaining three enrollment centers with a census like that.

The rumor mill is flying at this point. That's unfortunate because no repair cost figures have been released and it is unlikely that any member of the school board can make a decision without knowing all the facts.

Having covered the PAC board for nearly five years, I know that the board and administration will put the students first and make its decision in the best interests of the students.

I am just thankful that I am not in on the decision-making process.

Concerned citizens meet to discuss future of schools
By Sylvia Olson

Over 100 residents of the Pocahontas Area Community School district met the evening of April 12 to consider the future of the Rolfe building and the district as a whole.

The deterioration and closing of the Rolfe building earlier this spring had resulted in moving middle school students to the Pocahontas Methodist church and high school buildings. This arrangement will continue through this school year, but the school board is considering other options for next year and the foreseeable future.  

Superintendent Michael Wright convened the meeting in the high school gymnasium, and after a half hour of questions and answers, the attendees gathered in small groups in the cafeteria to generate ideas for the school board to consider.

The ideas will be analyzed for their pros, cons and costs by the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Advisory Committee, and the best options presented to the school board at their May meeting. At this time, the school board also expects to have the results of research by the structural engineer hired to study the Rolfe building. No reasonable estimate for the cost to repair the Rolfe building is currently available.

As it stands now, only the new part of the Rolfe building could be used. This includes the gym and locker rooms, band and vocal music rooms, shop and family/consumer science room.

In response to questions, Wright explained that if any of the interior of the building were changed in making repairs, the entire structure would have to be brought up to the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, including installing two elevators.

Insurance should cover the cost of repairs based on replacement value, but would pay only the cash value if the structure were demolished.

Declining enrollment is a major factor in the future of the district. This year's senior class numbers 65, and similar numbers (in the 60's and 70's) are projected for the next four classes. But beginning with this year's sixth grade (the class of 2010), that figure drops into the 40's, 30's, and even 20's. Overall enrollment in the district has been dropping steadily since 1998-1999 (841 students). This year's enrollment averages 691. By 2008-2009, the Iowa Department of Education estimates that PAC will enroll only 512 students.

During the brainstorming session on April 12, many possible solutions, both short- and long-term, were generated. A common theme was the desire to keep the middle school students together, and separate from the high school. The impact of changes on Rolfe was also high on the list of concerns. Several groups considered keeping the newer part of the Rolfe building and adding additional space there as needed. Other ideas included removing the top one or two floors of the Rolfe building.

Many other options were listed, ranging from building an entire new facility to using temporary buildings or trailers.  Use of other existing structures was also proposed by many of the groups. These included the former Ben Franklin building, the bus barn, the current AEA building, the former Palmer School, the Barretts building, the current Farm Service Agency building, and the former Senior Living Center/Abbey building. Many ideas about cooperation with the Catholic School were also proposed. Looking to the future, many groups also suggested talking with surrounding districts about the possibility of a countywide school system or other sharing.

Superintendent Wright complimented the students, staff and parents for working together to make this spring's emergency arrangements work. "Mr. Woiwood (middle school principal) and Mr. Francis (high school principal) have made lemonade from lemons. They've truly made the best of the situation," he noted.

The next scheduled meeting of the PACS board of directors will be May 10 at 7 p.m.                

Board pledges to move quickly on Rolfe building

All options will be considered and no stones will be left unturned regarding the future of the Rolfe Middle School, PAC School Directors said during their regular meeting March 16.

Dr. Gregory Cullen, mayor of Rolfe, presented the board with petitions containing 257 signatures urging directors to "rebuild and/or refurbish" the Rolfe building.

Cullen noted that the signatures not only included Rolfe residents but also residents of neighboring communities such as Havelock, Plover and Gilmore City.

"I'm glad you're sitting in those chairs and I'm not," Cullen began. "The (Rolfe city) council unanimously agreed that we will help you in any way we can. Just ask if you need help. We are here to help you."

He urged directors to keep the council informed on decisions regarding the building's future.

"The coffee shop talk (in Rolfe) is that the school board already has made a decision. Just keep us informed. That way we can get correct information out there."

Speaking personally, Cullen stressed that he hopes the board explores all options to save the school.

"It's nice to have a middle school there," the Rolfe mayor said. "What we have now isn't as good as what we had. Please explore all options. We're willing to help."

In remarks following Cullen's presentation, the board indicated that it is in the "information-gathering" phase and will gather all information as quickly as possible before making a decision. The board also pledged to keep Rolfe residents informed of progress.

"I don't think we want to educate kids next fall the way we are now," pointed out school board member Dan Duitscher of Rolfe. "I think Rolfe was a great situation. I had two kids attend school there and another started this year. We will look at all options to retain it," added Ray Seehusen.

Jann Ricklefs of Gilmore City, board president, said timing is of the essence. "I think it is important that we move forward as quickly as possible."

The board approved hiring Timothy J. Korpela, a structural engineer from Windsor Heights (Des Moines suburb) to determine the extent of the damage and prepare bid specifications to repair the building. Korpela's fee is $135.00/hour.

Korpela did send some very preliminary thoughts on restoring the building's south wall accompanied by rough cost estimates.

His three options and estimated range of cost for each option include:

  • Replace, repair and stabilize existing masonry wall, $180,000-$270,000;

  • Replace missing exterior wythe of brick and cover entire wall with structural steel stabilizing grid and metal wall panels, $270,000-$360,000;

  • Remove exterior wythe of brick and replace with new brick, stabilize existing interior wythes, $360,000-$450,000.

He also noted that restoration of other walls of the building likely will be required, especially the west wall. He suggested repairs to the wall might be similar to the first option of the south wall with an estimated cost range of $90,000-$180,000.

Kopela toured the building Feb. 25 and noted that brick also is deteriorating on the east end of the south wall. "The brick failure is primarily associated with the exterior wythe of the multi-wythe brick wall (a wythe is defined as a single brick thickness; for example in some  place if the wall is three bricks wide, each of the three bricks is considered a wythe). He said his initial opinion as cause for the deterioration is a lack of structural tie between the exterior wythe and the interior wythes and insufficient structural connection of the entire masonry wall to the building's primary framing (both wood and concrete).

Due to the lack of structural ties of the wythes, and to the primary framing, has resulted in the buckling of the wall, he continued. He also noted that one of the concrete support beams has a significant crack.

Thus far, the transplantation of the middle school students to the high school and United Methodist Church has gone well, school administrators told the board.

"I think the move has gone very smoothly. In fact it has been outstanding, thanks to the students, staff and administrators," concluded middle-school principal Andy Woiwood.

"Korpela won't be able to give us cost estimates of repairs, but he can give construction companies information on repairs needed so we can get some cost estimates from the companies," Superintendent Mike Wright told the board.

In a related matter, Tom Powers of Powers Insurance of Pocahontas, agent for the school's property and liability insurance through Employers Mutual Company, told the board that all but the liability coverage on the old part of the Rolfe building will be cancelled as of March 22.

The cancellation does not affect the gymnasium, home ec and band rooms and the newer part of the building extending east to the gym.

That means that anything stored in the old part of the building would not be covered should the building collapse.

"Anytime you have an increase in hazard above and beyond the normal risk, this happens," Powers said. "This isn't unusual. We just have to follow the normal procedure. I fully understand why they did it — it is just too large a risk. If the building is returned to where it is solid again, we can put it back on (the policy)."

However, the damage to the building last month is covered by insurance, he noted. "We have to determine the line between collapse and deterioration."

If the remaining building contents in the old part of the building were moved into the new part, they would be covered by insurance, Powers added.

Directors hosted the public hearing and passed the fiscal 2004-05 budget. The budget calls for spending authority of $8,477,684 and revenue of $6,367,997. It should be noted that spending authority should not be misconstrued with expenses. Expenses often are considerably lower than spending authority. The spending authority, is not actual cash on hand, and is estimated high because a school district cannot exceed its spending authority during the fiscal year.

Property tax levy for fiscal 2005 will be $12.25 per $1,000 taxable valuation, an increase of $1.26 from the current levy of $10.99 per $1,000 taxable valuation.

Wright noted that due to the decrease in ag valuation, the district's tax valuation dropped by 21 percent or $51 million to $185 million.

Property tax will account for $1,875,756 of the revenue in the general fund. State aid will account for another $2,776,817. In addition, the district will receive $1.6 million in miscellaneous federal, state and local income.

The district will retain the $1.00 per $1,000 taxable valuation physical, plant and equipment levy and increase the management fund to $95,000.

There were no written or oral objections received at the hearing.

Directors approved the 28E agreement with the Laurens-Marathon Community School District to continue sharing Wright as superintendent. Each district pays one-half of Wright's salary, fringe benefits and expenses. Wright's salary package for 2004-05 has not been finalized by the respective boards.

Also, the two school districts will discontinue former Superintendent Dennis Pierce's role as consultant. Pierce was hired as a one-day-a-week consultant for the current school year at an annual salary of approximately $21,000.

Directors ratified the 2004-05 master contract with the Pocahontas Area Education Association. The PAEA ratified the pact March 11.

Highlights of the new contract include:

  • A $300 increase in the base salary (from $20,625 to $20,925);

  • Addition of a longevity (experience) step which includes compensation of .025 percent of the base salary;

  • A $20 increase in the district's monthly contribution toward employee family health insurance. Currently, the district pays the full single policy and $100 monthly toward the family plan;

  • Five days of bereavement leave, an addition of one day;

  • Increase in the National Honor Society sponsor's pay from $50-$100;

  • Increase the junior class sponsor's pay from $100 to $150.

In personnel matters, directors accepted the resignation and early retirement benefits application of middle-school social studies teacher and coach Dick Gruber. Gruber has been with the district 13 years. Directors also accepted the resignation of teacher associate Sarah Munson.

In remaining agenda items, the board:

  • Approved the purchase of a new 72-passenger diesel school bus from Bluebird for $60,010, which includes a $3,500 trade-in allowance of two current PAC buses. Thompson Bus Co. actually had the low bid of approximately $59,600, but directors opted for the Bluebird because it included an air suspension system, valued at about $2,500.

  • Awarded a bid of $16,612.04 to Pocahontas Ford-Lincoln-Mercury for a new 2004 Ford Econoline nine-passenger van. The district will retire two of the current vans. Pocahontas Ford was the lone bidder.

  • Approved a 28E agreement with Hope United Methodist Church of Pocahontas to lease space in the church for sixth-grade students. The district will not be charged rent but will pay for any cleaning and/or painting costs incurred by the addition of the class. The agreement runs until June 1.

Directors meet again Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m. in the Central Administration Building.          

First bell won't ring in Rolfe in August

Amid all the uncertainty over the future of the Rolfe Middle School building, there might be at least one tidbit of certainty — the first school bell will not ring in Rolfe in August.

Much homework has to be done before questions can be answered about the future of the building and those homework sessions could extend well into the summer.

PAC School Directors during a special board meeting March 25 completed one of their first assignments, retaining Korpela Engineering of Windsor Heights (West Des Moines) to further investigate repair needs and costs at the school.

A section of brick on the south wall fell from the building in late February. Further investigation revealed that the south wall was deteriorating to the point of being unsafe. Inspection by structural engineers also detected problems in the west wall and the fire marshal, during a visit in late February, basically closed the school because of the lack of fire exits. Since that time, PAC seventh- and eighth-graders have been attending classes at PAC High School and the sixth-graders are going to school at Hope United Methodist Church in Pocahontas.

Tom Korpela of Korpela Engineering submitted a four-phase proposal to school directors to determine repair needs on the building. Each phase included cost for completion with the costs ranging from $2,600 to $12,500. Total cost of the services, if the board so chooses, is $35,000.

Directors voted during the special session to retain Korpela for the design development phase ($12,500 cost). Korpela already has completed the schematic phase ($2,500) which included an initial site visit with emphasis on the south wall failure and a limited look at the west wall. The work also included options for consideration and engineers' cost estimate.

In a related matter, the board also voted to reconvene the School Improvement Advisory Committee to draft a list of options addressing the future infrastructure needs (whether the building should be repaired, torn down and replaced, middle school be moved to another site, etc.).

The design development phase, to be completed sometime in April includes:

  • Extended site visit to generally determine existing framing layout and masonry conditions on all sides of the building (expose the building to view conditions and some cutting of holes through the interior walls and ceilings);

  • Phone consultation and/or meet with masonry contractors to review parameters and issues of the project (gage contractors' interest in the project, incorporate contractors' recommendations and issues);

  • Second letter report including a better definition of recommended repair approach and better defined engineers' cost estimates;

  • Report to the board answering questions and elaborating on recommendations.

"It's evident that a fairly substantial amount of money will have to be spent," noted Superintendent Mike Wright.

Wright said he feels the board has no choice but to hire Korpela for the second phase. "It's one of those things that until he really gets in there by cutting through walls that he won't know (what has to be done)."

"I think we have to go for it," added board President Jann Ricklefs.

In other discussion, board member Ray Seehusen asked about the possibility of removing the third floor, but Wright said engineers have told him that removing the third floor could result in even a larger expenditure because the building would have to be re-roofed.

Board member Dave Duitscher of Rolfe said that he would favor tearing the building down and replacing it.

Director Tim Cook urged board members to do some long-range planning. "No matter what we do, they (staff and students) won't be in there in September. I think we have to look 10-20 years into the future if we're spending a million dollars."

Wright said he feels the board basically has three or four options which include:

  • Repairing the existing building;

  • Tearing down the building;

  • Tearing down the building and replacing it with a new building;

  • Tearing down the building and acquiring another building.

Continuing, Wright said the Pocahontas Catholic School building is not an option for the 2004-05 school year, due to the relocation of the bishop of the Sioux City Diocese.

"The bishop has moved (to Texas) and the diocese has said they won't be closing any buildings while they have a bishop vacancy. The Catholic school is going to continue with their current educational program next fall. However, there is some classroom space available in their building."

Wright reported a contractor has told him that it would cost approximately $85,000 to raze the building and that figure does not include asbestos removal. He also noted that if the building was repaired, there could be significant related costs.

"We have to consider whether a rebuild would include making it handicapped accessible," he began. "I know from experience that making it handicapped accessible would be a minimum cost of $250,000. Also, re-opening it would be contingent upon the fire marshal's approve and I think the fire marshal might require some additional renovations before approving it. In terms of repair, the cost could be much more than just the outside repair. There are a lot of unknown factors that go into it."

The superintendent also remarked that it isn't a certainty that a contractor could be found willing to repair the building.

PAC's School Improvement Advisory Committee, comprised of patrons, administrators, staff and students, currently numbers around 35 people. The board said it would give current members the option of continuing their membership regarding the Rolfe situation or opting out. Those opting out would be replaced for the facility study.

"I think we're at the point where we need to actively explore whether we want to fix the building, tear it down, build a new building or look at facilities elsewhere," Ricklefs commented. "I think it would be a good idea to get more people involved (in the decision-making process). I think it is so involved that we need more people involved."

While the board wants the committee to study options on the future of the middle school, it will not be asking for a recommendation from the committee, the board noted.

Cook suggested that study extend to the current high school building (two years newer than the Rolfe building which was built in 1917). "Our original high school is about the same age and eventually will probably have to be replaced. Maybe we want to build a new building to include everything. I'm interested in the options — what are we going to do next year and in the future?"

Korpela's third and fourth phases include a completion timetable of August. The board has the option of continuing with Korpela's services beyond the second phase.

The third phase, to be completed in April-June, is the construction documents phase. Korpela's services include preparing construction documents for bidding, final engineer's cost estimate and a pre-bid meeting. Cost of the third phase is $12,500.

Korpela's fourth and final phase is the construction administration phase ($7,500 cost). That phase basically includes acting as a project manager.

Next regular meeting of the directors is Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m. in the Central Office.             

Rolfe middle school

Rolfe — Clouds of uncertainty are hovering over the Rolfe Middle School.

The only sure thing at present is that it appears that the school has seen its final bell of the 2003-04 school year.

Iowa weather has taken its toll on the 87-year-old structure. Moisture finding its way into the exterior brick and then freezing and thawing has caused bricks to fall from the south side of the building and both the south and west walls are bulging, according to Superintendent Mike Wright. "It also appears the east wall may have some problems," he added.

Structural engineers and fire marshals inspected the building last week and the fire marshal told the district that the school would have to be closed because of the lack of available fire exits.

The only fire exit that currently can be used is the exit east through the gymnasium, according to Wright. Bricks have fallen from the south wall where the main entrance is located and the fire marshal said the west wall appears to be "bowing" which closes two exits on that side of the building.

Consequently, the school "moved" last week as desks, books, filing cabinets and other school materials were loaded in a trailer and trucked to Pocahontas where the items were unloaded Thursday afternoon by high school students and staff.

The eighth grade had a scheduled field trip Thursday and there was no school scheduled on Friday. Sixth- and seventh-graders were excused from school on Thursday, too.

Current plans call for seventh- and eighth-grade students to attend classes in the high school building while the sixth-grade will be housed at Hope United Methodist Church, pending approval by the church board, Wright said.

"There probably won't be school in Rolfe the balance of the year," Wright surmised. "If the building can be repaired and passes inspection, it could be reopened. However, those repairs could take the balance of the (school) year."

Wright said that it may be some time before a decision is made on the future of the building.

The school district has hired a structural engineer and the district's insurance carrier, Employers Mutual Company (EMC), also has hired a structural engineer to survey the building. Both of the engineers visited last week but have not completed their reports as of presstime.

"Basically, the structural engineers will determine what needs to be done and then we will talk to contractors and ask for cost estimates of repairs," detailed Wright. "When we receive those estimates from the contractors, the board will make a determination of whether it is a good expenditure of district money.

"We want to make an informed decision and we will need time to make the right decision. Nobody wants to close a building and the decision will be extremely difficult for all concerned. However, the safety of the students has to come first."

Wright praised his building principals for a smooth transition in absorbing the middle school. "They have to make it work. I think there is sufficient room at the high school. We had some classrooms converted to storage the past few years, and we will have to convert them back to classrooms. Also, we have some high school classrooms that are only used a couple of periods a day and can be shared between the high school and middle school."

The main classroom building of Pocahontas High School is just two years newer (built in 1919) than the Rolfe building, but Wright said the building appears to be in good shape and there are no plans for an inspection by a structural engineer.

Wright, who is in his first year as a shared superintendent for the Pocahontas Area and Laurens-Marathon School districts said he won't forget the current school year. "This definitely is a challenge I didn't anticipate."

Advisory committee report presents
options, details for school board

The Comprehensive School Improvement Advisory Committee met on April 19 and again on May 18 to gather information and develop recommendations for the PAC Board of Education to consider. The basic options were:

  1. Repair/remodel the existing structures.

  2. Demolish the Middle School building and build in Rolfe.

  3. Demolish the Middle School building and build in Pocahontas.

  4. Demolish the Middle School building and use existing buildings.

The Advisory Committee suggested that the two best options were (1) and (4), and offered the following pros and cons:

Use Existing Facilities


  • Cost of repairs

  • Space is available

  • Articulation of curriculum

  • As enrollment declines, sharing of staff is viable

  • No lost teaching time in travel from building to building

  • Simplified bus and dismissal procedures

  • Could buy time for the district to look for other options to arise (AEA moving out of Central Office, future of the Catholic School Building)

  • Fixed cost of operation less (gas, electrical, water, etc.)


  • Middle School is not a completely separate entity from the High School (phone, fax, intercom, bells, lockers; developmentally appropriate setting)

  • Computer network is heavily “taxed” being in one building

  • Locker room space lacking for Middle School athletics and physical education

  • No “Team Room” for staff

  • Cost of demolition

  • Storage space

  • Office space

  • Heating of Rolfe building

Repair the Middle School Building in Rolfe


  • Separate entity for the Middle School programs (phone, fax, intercom, bells, lockers; developmentally appropriate setting; separate library and computer lab facilities)

  • Adequate gym and locker space for MS athletics and physical education classes

  • No cost for demolition

  • More space for offices and storage

  • Decrease stress on computer network

  • Room for Middle School “Teaming” for staff

  • Time to plan (develop 10-year plan)


  • Cost of repairs and continued operation of the facility

  • Building will not be handicap accessible

  • Time factor (repairs will take some time; must move back)

  • Declining enrollment will probably force closure of this facility in the near future

  • Space is available for all classrooms in the existing high school building if rearranged.

Building a new facility would take a considerable amount of time, and the high cost would necessitate the approval of a bond issue.

The option of using portable buildings was explored, but was considered too expensive and not ideal as an educational environment.

Costs of new construction were estimated at approximately $110/square foot for a brick building ($3,960,000 to replace the 36,000 square feet at Rolfe), or about $70/square foot for a steel building ($2,507,040 for a 36,000 square foot building).

The idea of using space at the Pocahontas Catholic School did not seem feasible. Only two rooms may be available for the next school year, and they are most appropriate for younger students. The Catholic School will not be closed at least until a new bishop is appointed to the Sioux City Diocese.

It would be feasible to continue using the high school building for both middle school and high school students, with a better arrangement than was possible this spring. Then the move had to be done over one weekend. It would be possible to have most of the middle school classrooms on the second floor, with three more on the third floor.

Enrollment projections from the Department of Education show PAC’s K-12 enrollment dropping from about 700 to about 500 over the five-year period beginning in 2003-04 and ending in 2008-09. The K-5 figures are stable over this period; middle school decreases, then is stable; high school is stable, then decreases.

The Department of Education sent two representatives to look at the high school and middle school facilities on May 13. The DE told the PAC district that the district needed to look at the long-term needs and develop a 10-year plan.

Depending on the cost of repairs, the DE believes the Rolfe building should be used for the middle school program until the district has determined a 10-year plan. The best option educationally is to keep the Middle School students and programs separate from the High School.

The DE also expressed concerns about handicap accessibility of all buildings in the district. Currently, none of them are fully handicap accessible.

Options for paying for repairs include the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which is good for the next ten years; the Local Option State Sales Tax, or School Infrastructure Local Option Tax, which was passed in Pocahontas last year, and which starts paying in August; insurance payments; and the Iowa Demonstration Construction Grant Program.

Recent additions at the PAC High School include the Vocation Technology Addition, paid from the PPEL Fund at a total cost of $826,967, with $55,000 still due; the Music Room Addition, paid in full from the PPEL Fund; and the Weight Room, paid in full from the PPEL Fund.

Estimates of the cost of demolition of the three-story building in Rolfe varied from $80,000 (without asbestos removal, etc.) to $150,000.

Based on a thorough inspection of the Rolfe building on April 27, Korpela Engineering estimated the cost of repairs, including installing stainless steel wall ties, filling gaps between walls with epoxy-type grout, tuck pointing and concrete repairs, at $281,500. Additionally, there would be about $20,000 in engineering costs and an unknown amount for putting electrical wiring in the attic into conduit, which is a necessity for fire safety.

For the short term, the Advisory Committee suggested rearranging the High School Building to be used for 6-12 academics, and continue to use the athletic facilities in Rolfe for Middle School athletic programs. Long-term, the Advisory Committee recommended putting together a 10-year plan. 

PAC school board takes next step toward Rolfe repairs
By Sylvia Olson

In a well-attended meeting the evening of June 3, the Pocahontas Area Community school board considered a report from the Comprehensive School Improvement Advisory Committee regarding options for the future. The question is, how will the district accommodate its middle school students next year and in the foreseeable future?

After a thorough presentation by superintendent Michael Wright, the board also listened to comments from the audience of dozens of interested community members, including many teachers. At the end of the evening, the board voted to go forward with the next step toward repairing the Rolfe building which had housed the middle school until it was closed at the end of February.

Tim Korpela of Korpela Engineering, who has provided a structural analysis of the damage to the Rolfe building and the probable cost of repairs or demolition, will be instructed to begin the next phase. Korpela will develop detailed drawings for the needed repairs and work with contractors to obtain bids on the work.

Korpela had already contacted 15 masonry contractors to find out if they would be interested in bidding on the project. As of May 26, four had responded with interest, and two had said they would not be interested. Korpela’s initial estimate of the cost for repairing the Rolfe facility was $281,500.

Dan Duitscher, a member of the school board from Rolfe, made the formal motion to proceed with plans for the repairs. “If it comes in close to the estimate, we should repair the Rolfe facility,” he noted.

School board member Tim Cook from Pocahontas said that he had been on the other side until a couple of days ago, but now he thought “we owe it to the school district to find out” if the repairs can be done economically. Apparently the rest of the school board agreed, as the vote to proceed was unanimous. It will cost $12,500 for the next phase of the engineer’s work.

Although it is not yet certain that the repairs will be made, the decision to pursue that option was a relief to many in the audience. The other option suggested by the Advisory Committee was to continue to use the facilities at the high school building for both high school and middle school students, though with some changes from the arrangements used this spring.

No matter which course the board ultimately follows, however, it is certain that the 2004-2005 school year will start with all the middle school and high school students sharing the Pocahontas facility. If repairs are made to the Rolfe building, Wright said it might be possible to move the middle school back to that facility by December.

Before proceeding to their vote, the school board heard comments from various audience members. Most expressed support for maintaining a separate space for the middle school, and noted the lack of space and adequate facilities for all the programs, including athletics, if all students from 6-12 are housed in the current high school building.

George Tuttle, Pocahontas mayor, added an economic perspective. Although current state projections of population show a continuing decline for Pocahontas and the county, Tuttle is optimistic that things may be turning around. “Brand FX, which has moved into the former Industrial Hydraulics building, is planning to make that a state-of-the-art facility, and fill the building. That will create a lot of job opportunities,” he noted. “Also, it looks like the AEA will be building a new facility here, which will mean 30-40 jobs. We have had inquiries about the Buske building. The more positive things that happen, the more they will continue that way.

“The Pocahontas County Economic Development Commission is being reorganized and is moving forward, and the Pocahontas city council has decided to work with the PCEDC and also to hire their own economic development person. There are a lot of folks with a lot invested in Pocahontas,” Tuttle added.

Bill Winkleblack, president of the PCEDC board of directors, voiced optimism as well. “We’re going to great lengths in this county and the local communities here,” he said. “Consolidation is not the answer. Losing the facility in Rolfe would be one more loss, sealing the fate of consolidation and shrinking. Maintaining that facility is definitely the right thing to do.” He also noted that there is a competitive market for construction projects right now, with most work being done for less than originally estimated.

Andrew Woiwood, principal of the PAC Middle School, also voiced support for returning to the Rolfe building. With the middle school as it was, students had “plenty of space to spread out and work, room for projects, three computer labs, a big library, good athletic facilities with plenty of locker room space. Also, when the eight graders are the oldest students in a school, they have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.

“This spring we’ve had to ‘get by’ and ‘make do,’” continued Woiwood. “That’s not the Pocahontas way. We need to ask ourselves what’s the best thing for our kids? Our communities? Our county?”

The school board will be considering what to do about contracts with support staff, including assistant teachers, and lunchroom, custodial and office workers, at its next meeting on June 14. Board chairman Jann Ricklefs asked the administrators to come up with recommendations for these contract decisions before that meeting.

Details of the Comprehensive School Improvement Advisory Committee’s report are included in the accompanying sidebar. Copies of the report are available at the district’s central office.

Patrons urge caution in Rolfe building decision

Two patrons cautioned the Pocahontas Area Community School Board of Directors to look carefully at the "big picture" before making any decisions on the future of the Rolfe Middle-School building.

Comments by Phil Carlson and Dick Garner of Pocahontas came at the conclusion of the board's regular meeting June 14 — following review of the board's decision to proceed with the construction documents phase of the project. The board approved entering into the construction documents phase during a special meeting June 3.

"This should be the decision-making phase," explained Superintendent Mike Wright. "…We should be able to find out about the insurance settlement and actual costs rather than estimates," added board President Jann Ricklefs.

"I'd say we will be at the point where we say either we will go this way or that way (repair or not repair the buidling)," Wright concurred.

Board member Jeff Kerns noted time is of the essence. "We have to get rolling on this."

Basically, the construction documents phase, which will cost the district $12,500, entails hiring Tim Korpela, a structural engineer from West Des Moines, to draft bid specifications for the repair of the building. The state fire marshal in late February ordered the building closed because of deteriorating brick exterior walls.

PAC sixth, seventh and eighth graders finished the year being schooled at the high school and Hope United Methodist Church.

Plans are for all students in the district to begin the 2004-05 term in Pocahontas.

During the June 3 meeting, Pocahontas Mayor George Tuttle said the city is working hard in its attempts to secure new business and industry to the community. He mentioned that Brand FX, new owners of the former Iowa Hydraulics facility, will be adding workers in the near future. Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (AEA) directors have voted to locate their printing, distribution, central offices and some support staff in Pocahontas, and there were other "irons in the fire." Therefore, Tuttle said the district school enrollment could rise in future years.

Carlson, however, told the school during the June 14 meeting that economic development in Pocahontas was a "long shot."

"There is a lot of discussion that economic development will increase enrollment in the school district. I think it (economic development) is a long shot. I don't think the board can count on economic development to increase the (school) census. I feel sorry for the community of Rolfe, losing a school would be tough. But I don't think it is prudent to maintain that (building) when we have enough space here (in Pocahontas)."

Garner said directors may be surprised when they start opening bids.

"I think there are some gray areas the board is not looking at. On any remodeling project, there will be other things (not anticipated). I think you may be looking at a lot more than $280,000. It will be difficult for Rolfe because a lot of times when you lose a school, you lose an identity. You just have to do what you have to do."

Korpela, who thus far has handled all of the work on the Rolfe building, estimated repair costs to the Rolfe building at just over $281,000 in his report to the board last month.

PAC is advertising for a high-school instrumental music director again. Kathleen Sherman tendered her resignation, saying that she wanted to be closer to her family in Minnesota. Sherman spent just one year in the district and has accepted a teaching position in the Gopher state.

Resignations also were accepted from Marc DeMoss, middle-school social studies instructor, varsity cross-country coach and assistant football coach; Victoria Allen, food service employee; and Kevin Stumpf, middle-school softball coach.

DeMoss will be middle-school principal at Rockwell City-Lytton and Stumpf's resignation was accepted pending the finding of a suitable replacement.

In a final personnel move, the board approved the 2004-05 technology consulting contract with BA Consulting (George Tuttle). The contract includes a $600 increase in the annual stipend to $33,000.

Superintendent Wright distributed the final enrollment figures for the 2003-04 school year. The figures show that the district had a net loss of 14 students during the term.

In final action, the board approved the designation of reserve funds. The board is designating the funds due to the district's high solvency rate. Solvency rate is the percentage of money in the general fund (as divided by the total general-fund budget) that are not designated or reserved. Common solvency rates in Iowa school districts are 10-15 percent whereas PAC's solvency rate is 37 percent, or $2.3 million in undesignated funds in the general fund budget.

Wright mentioned the high solvency rate during a meeting last fall and said he was urged by Bill Garner, Prairie Lakes AEA administrator, to designate some of the funds.

Garner told Wright that the AEA also had a high solvency rate at one time and the state forced the AEA to remit some of its state funding due to the high solvency rate.

PAC directors reserved $1.5M of the surplus funds for three months worth of cash flow; $315,000 for roof replacement for all buildings; and $185,000 for resurfacing of all parking lots.

Wright told the board that just because the funds are being designated for those items, "it doesn't mean we have to or will spend them on those projects." In fact, the board could "undesignate" the funds at the July meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. July 12 in the Central Office. 

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