By Lance Mihm
ST. MARYS -- School board members are leaning toward closing Noble Elementary School, but no official action was taken during a Saturday meeting.
"Economically, I think the general feeling of the board is it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to put a bunch of money in it (the school)," board member Craig Gottschalk said at the two-hour session. "The question I am picking up is when, not if."
The small rural school, which opened in 1958 and currently serves 118 students, would face several obstacles if it were to remain open.
The amount of arsenic in the drinking water would need to be reduced by next year, due to new guidelines of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Board members learned a fix could cost from $25,000 to $150,000.
A Jan. 27 test of the water showed 12 micrograms per liter of arsenic. The current EPA standard allows 50 micrograms, but that will be reduced to 10 micrograms in 2006. The school also faces sewage treatment issues in order to conform with EPA standards.
Superintendent Ken Baker said the sewer system for the school would fail three of the four sewer system standards set forth by the EPA and could cost anywhere from $65,000 to $175,000 to bring it into compliance.
Noble school has the highest cost per pupil ($8,512) in the school district. The average districtwide cost is $7,181.
The school also needs roof repairs and does not comply with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act requirements, Baker said.
Baker expects the board to make its decision at the March 9 board meeting. The board's three options are to close the school after the current school year, close it after the 2005-2006 year or keep it open indefinitely.
"The feeling I am getting is we are deciding 'when' and not 'if' to close the school," board member Darren Caywood said during the discussion. "Noble has been a great school. My father went there. But the time has come. It is a business decision."
Baker also said he feels the reconfiguration of the district from neighborhood schools to grade level schools, along with closing Noble, would be difficult to complete before next school year. The district is considering splitting the kindergarten to third grades and fourth to sixth grades into two elementary schools, East and West.
"About 75 percent of the staff is in favor of changing over to grade level schools," Baker said. "I don't think we would have time to do both a reconfiguration and close Noble this year."