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Too many unknowns in dome school idea

Why Reek chose $3.9 million project over other concepts

Former Administrator Lillian Nenderson examines damage to the brick facade at Reek School.

September 07, 2011 | 08:27 AM
Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about the Reek School Board's second attempt this year to obtain approval for a repair/renovation project. The first story appeared in the Sept. 1 edition of the Regional News.

LINN — Not everybody believes in fixing Reek School. As the roof, brick and windows deteriorate, other alternatives rise to the surface, such as constructing a new school building or consolidating with another district.

But on Aug. 1, the School Board decided to ask district voters to approve a special referendum Oct. 18. The referendum is to allow the district to proceed with a $3.9 million project to fix the structural problems, improve the security at the school entrance and other enhancements officials deem necessary.

This is the same project voters turned down in April, but Reek Administrator Joe Zirngibl said during an Aug. 24 interview board members believe it may have been approved if more people participated in the spring election.

However, there are those like district resident William Grunow, who proposed the idea of building a new school at the Aug. 1 board meeting.

But not just any boxy, run-of-the-mill, traditional school building.

"A Monolithic Dome is a solid alternative to replacing an old school that has seen better days," Grunow stated in an Aug. 1 letter to the board. "Not for the price that the architect (hired by Reek for the referendum project) thought it would take, which was between $8 and $9 million, but for the same price of the failed April referendum."

On Aug. 24, Zirngibl said the board opted for the same project because there wasn't enough information in Grunow's proposal. Still, it appears at least the idea of building a new school won't be completely swept off the table yet.

Another dome school?

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The dome school idea surfaced after the failure of the April referendum. However, Grunow stated he reluctantly voted for that referendum because "very little of the $3.9 (million) was being used for better educating the Reek students." He also stated the Monolithic Dome style of building "was never a consideration" and it's an idea he had been interested in "for decades."

According to Grunow, schools have been built using the Monolithic Dome system mainly to meet three considerations — cost, security and energy savings.

A school in Grand Meadows, Minn., was built using five Monolithic Dome structures. He toured Grand Meadows and found that district rented out office space in its old building.

"I feel Reek School would potentially have a better chance of developing and renting office space than Grand Meadows because of its location," Grunow stated.

He and Rick Crandall, one of the Grand Meadows dome architects, created a preliminary design for a Monolithic Dome school for Reek.

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For 300 students, the structure could be built for $2.8 million. In the estimated budget for this proposal, there is $150,000 set for buying a building site; $75,000 for land development; $250,000 for "roads, parking, curbing, exterior lighting;" $200,000 for a mound system; $250,000 for architectural fees; $75,000 for exterior utilities; $50,000 for a well; and $50,000 for moving equipment to the new school.

Zirngibl said there were some concerns with this proposal, which calls for a 12-classroom structure about 22,000 square feet in size.

He said as it was presented, he wasn't sure if it would meet state code. The proposed dome school calls for building a gymnasium in the center of the structure.

"A gym has to open directly to the outside," Zirngibl said. "It can't be in the center of a school building. That's what the board said."

That wasn't the only problem the board had with the proposal.

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"The biggest problem is it has to be built on bedrock, so that it's stable, which presents a big problem here because bedrock is not easily available," Zirngibl said.

Two other what-ifs: Where would the board find land to build on and what about the other costs involved?

In his letter, Grunow stated dome proponents talked to Jerry Brennan, who owns property near the Town of Linn Nature Conservancy Park.

"The property is available (and a) price was discussed, but a firm price was not established," Grunow stated. "This property is just east of Chuck's Welding."

But why build near the park when it's possible to build it on the 160-acre park property — or is it? Grunow said he spoke to Lynn Ketterhagen, Geneva Lake Conservancy land specialist, and Bob Klockars, conservancy president.

"Bob replied by saying that it might be possible pending the terms of the current easement," Grunow stated.

As for the other costs, Grunow stated "we feel we could get people to donate to the school."

"For example, using predetermined donation amounts, naming rights could be given to classrooms, gym, cafeteria, playground equipment, flagpole, etc.," he stated. "We feel we could, at a minimum, raise $500,000."

Grunow also stated there could be some grant possibilities.

Shell of an idea

However, it wasn't enough to sway the board off the same repair/renovation project it pursued in the spring. Zirngibl said Grunow's plan may have covered the outside structure for a school, but not everything it needs inside.

"It didn't include costs for the gym floor surface, it didn't include bleachers, it didn't include enough bathrooms to service the kindergarten rooms," Zirngibl said. "The plan itself had three bathroom stalls for 125 students plus all the staff."

But if the Reek referendum fails again, he said Grunow's plan may need to be revisited — or at least the idea of constructing a new school.

"We want to emphasize the need for repairs in this referendum, rather than put an end to the dome school issue because that might be a viable option if the referendum doesn't pass," Zirngibl said. "Right now, there's just too many unknowns to move forward with a dome or any new building."

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