The Ralls County R-II School District is planning a new elementary school, which would replace the existing New London and Center Elementary Schools with a new facility on the Mark Twain campus in Center.
A Tuesday, April 8, ballot issue will include a $7.5 million no-tax-increase bond proposal. If the measure passes the tax levy would remain at the 1994-95 level of $3.45, said Dawn Snodgrass, a mentor and parent at New London Elementary School.
She said that a no-tax-increase bond proposal failed to pass in 2007. In 2009, a bond issue was brought before voters for a tornado-safe multipurpose room on the Mark Twain Junior-Senior High campus. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $975,000 for the project. The bond issue failed to pass in April, but was approved in November.
Jardel Stratton, third grade teacher at New London Elementary, explained that it is beneficial to have more than one teacher for each grade level, so instructors can collaborate and provide more one-on-one time with each student.
“If a new kid comes in, we have the benefit of two teachers for each grade level, but Center does not have that ability,” Stratton said.
Class sizes are as large as 29 or 30 students per classroom at Center Elementary School, said principal Tammy Angel. When high school students come to mentor the younger children, space is at a premium.
“It’s hard to find a place to put them,” Angel said.
In New London, part of the gymnasium doubled as a lunch area, posing a safety hazard when children were in physical education, Stratton said. The dining area has been moved, but she said that only half of the furnaces work in the gymnasium.
Safety is one of the most important goals of the new school, Angel said. In the event of a tornado warning, Center Elementary students are bused to the tornado-safe Multipurpose Building on the Mark Twain campus. Because of FEMA regulations that require the doors to be locked soon after a tornado warning is issued, students in New London cannot be bused to the building, Angel said.
In New London, the only room that provides protection from a tornado is the boys restroom, which cannot hold all the students, Snodgrass said.
Technology has been a key goal for the Ralls County R-II District, Angel said. But the current buildings were designed about 60 years ago and are not ready for modern computers and other devices. In Center and New London, wires drop from the ceilings to classroom projectors and collect at hubs in the computer labs.
Stratton, Snodgrass, and Angel agree that one campus would eliminate the physical education and music teachers from having to transfer equipment between the two schools and drive back and forth. Angel said the district’s sole nurse should be on one campus to better serve students such as those who are seizure-prone or who have severe allergies.
She added that the new school will be much more energy efficient and will have a single buzz-in point for security. The 19 elementary classrooms will allow more equal sizes, and two new computer labs will better support new technology. Also, each wing of the floor plan has been designed for future expansion, Angel said.
Angel wished to commend the school board and superintendent for considering feedback and making changes to the floor plan to make the new plan fit the district.
Public meetings about the bond issue were held in New London on March 10, at the Mark Twain Jr.-Sr. High Multipurpose Building on March 20, and in Perry on March 24.
“Each and every step along the way, the community has had the opportunity to be involved,” Angel said. “It’s a hot topic right now.”
In New London, the potential closure of the elementary school drew a variety of reactions from local residents.
Donna Franklin said she has lived in New London all her life, and her two children went to New London Elementary School.
    “It worked fine for all these years. I don’t know why they’d change it now,” Franklin said.
“My opinion is it’s silly. It’s been voted down twice already. We’ve got perfectly good schools that will sit empty,” she said.
She was unhappy with the closure of Perry Elementary School and the installation of air-conditioning units at New London Elementary School if the building will be replaced by the proposal.
Paula Winfree said she moved to New London a few years ago, but she has heard discussion about the bond issue. She said busing New London students to Center would create more costs for the school district for fuel and vehicle maintenance. Many of the students in New London don’t use buses.
“A lot of these kids just ride their bikes and walk to school,” Winfree said. She echoed Franklin’s dismay about recent renovations to the existing elementary school:
“Plus, what are you going to do with the building?” she asked.
One New London parent is still undecided. New London resident Beanka Tarpein has two children at New London Elementary School. Her main concern is for younger students having to travel farther to school.
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea to put it out there,” Tarpein said.
Some local residents are enthusiastic about the proposal.
“I’m all for it,” said Ronny Calvin of New London.
He has two children in the school district, one of whom is in the elementary school. He said large class sizes and the condition of school buildings in the district is a concern.
He added that he would like to see students of all ages nearer to one another.
“I think the kids will get more out of one campus,” Calvin said.
    A New London resident who wished to remain anonymous supported the proposal for a new school, citing a need for a safer and more modern facility for the students.
    “My personal opinion is that it should have been done 20 years ago,” he said.