ARMSTRONG - A committee looking for buyers for the Ringsted school has had several inquiries, but the group still wants the Armstrong-Ringsted school board to give it more time.
The Ringsted school housed the district's elementary students for many years, but the board has discussed closing the site to save nearly $150,000 per year in operating costs. Closing the building became official policy when Armstrong-Ringsted entered into a whole-grade sharing agreement with North Kossuth and Sentral. The deal begins with the 2012-2013 school year.
Alan Madden, a member of the Ringsted building committee, updated the school board Monday. He said interest has ranged from established businesses, to start-up businesses, to others interested in turning the building into an assisted-living facility.
"We made a lot more progress than we expected," he said.
But Madden also said the committee is looking for more time. The school board has established a tentative deadline of Sept. 1 to find a buyer before looking into demolition. Having the building sit empty unheated though the winter could begin a quick deterioration. When Madden asked the board if it could keep minimal heat on in the Ringsted building for the year, board president Jim Boyer was less than enthusiastic.
"There are dollar consequences for keeping that building running," he said. "Every dollar we spend there is money we're taking away from the education of our kids."
While the Ringsted building remains in good shape, it won't take long for deterioration if left vacant, from peeling lead paint, to mold and possibly rodents.
"The estimates we have for demolition ranged from $68,000 to $550,000," Boyer said. "The estimate for removing asbestos alone is $44,000 ... But if that paint starts to peel and we have lead paint chips, then it's another ball game altogether."
The board is still waiting until closer to the Sept. 1 deadline to render a decision.
"Everyone that's been by the building is amazed at its condition," Madden said. "It'd be a real travesty to tear it down."
In other business, the school board is preparing for reorganization with Sentral in 2014. New Superintendent Matt Beringhaus requested setting a special meeting for Aug. 20 to discuss combining the two districts. Attorney Rick Ingall will offer a hypothetical timeline in order to have the two districts combined into one in time for the 2014-2015 school year. The districts are shooting for 2014 because that is when the state incentives for district whole-grade sharing and reorganization expire.
"We're working with small windows here," Beringhaus said. "If we miss one of these windows, we could be put in a pickle."
Beringhaus also said Armstrong-Ringsted is still considering the chance that North Kossuth could choose to be a part of the reorganization, combining all three districts into one.
"We're not looking to leave North Kossuth out," Boyer said. "The financial incentives are even more for a two-phase reorganization than a one-phase reorganization. But unless they get some new board members, or they see some other changes, I don't think they're ready."