Lead-Deadwood District finishes renovations of historic schools

The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Updated: Sep. 27, 2022 at 6:30 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Deadwood leans into its historical roots, even using the tagline “Entertaining guests since 1876.” Twin-city Lead prides itself in being a community where mining brought families there for 100 years. Just as both cities have reimagined themselves, the schools have had to adapt as well.

The Lead-Deadwood School District was once two separate educational hubs. When combined in 1971, the Gold Diggers saw record enrollment at more than 2,500 students, now the district sees around 700 kids walking their halls. Despite the lower enrollment, the district is still making major renovations.

“It’s just one of those things, there are always going to be improvements that need to be made. And maintenance, you know some of our buildings are really old and so there’s just always going to need some work,” said Dr. Erik Person, Superintendent of the Lead-Deadwood School District.

Recent renovations include making the high school more accessible with the installation of an elevator, changing exterior appearances, and enlarging classrooms at the elementary school.

“The big thing is the cafeteria. We’ve taken out some classrooms that were underutilized and really doubled the square footage of the cafeteria,” explained Person. “Then kind of tying in with the earlier phase, we remodeled the library upstairs. And we took some of that library area out upstairs and made a big portion of the cafeteria two-story.”

Getting rid of classrooms may seem counterproductive, but as Person said they were underutilized. Adding more space seems like a major benefit, but Person also said that lunch times for kids can be merged, now that the cafeteria can house more students. This year, student enrollment appears to be up slightly, while previous years have seen lower numbers.

“Those declines in enrollment don’t come in nice little packages. Like if you lose 20 students in a year, you know they’re not all in the first grade. You know, so, if you lose over twelve grades, you lose 20 students, that’s less than two students per grade. How do you reduce space?” asked Person. “How do you say, well we don’t need another school building, because we’re a few students short.”

Planning for the future can be difficult, and Person says that recent population growth in the Lead and Deadwood area may not mean permanent residents. “But a lot of those end up being second homes for people, people who are retired, financially secure, buying some pretty high-end homes. So, you know, that helps with our valuation, our taxable valuation, but it doesn’t really help with enrollment,” said Person, who began as Superintendent in July 2021.

Person says they do not receive state funding because of land valuation in the district. In 2021 the district spent $3,400 per student and will probably increase that in the next few years.