District 88 referendum set Aug. 12

By Kremena Spengler

Staff Writer

NEW ULM – The District 88 School Board on Thursday decided, on a 6-1 vote, to call a referendum Aug. 12 on a bond to build a new high school and remodel existing schools.

The dissenting vote was cast by Sharon Gieseke, who opposes new taxes (but did not specifically elaborate on her position during this particular vote).

Because the plan needs Minnesota Department of Education approval, the board also approved a document that describes the projects.

It will be sent to MDE for a review over the next 60 days.

The document states that the new high school would house grades 9-12 in a 140,000-square foot building on a new site. The existing high school would be converted to a middle school for grades 5-8. Upgrades will be made to Jefferson Elementary School to house grades 1-4 and Washington Elementary for conversion to a pre-kindergarten/kindergarten center.

The bond would be a 25-year, up to $46.9 million, bond. This amount includes both $45.467 million for the facility plans and related costs and $1.02 million in capitalized interest from refinancing existing debt to get a lower bond interest rate. The latter would save the district money in interest payments in the long run.

The document goes on to explain facility deficiencies; anticipated needs; and benefits of the proposed projects.

According to the document, deficiencies of the existing high school building include:

* Existing classrooms are undersized.

* Several spaces are not equipped for teaching the desired curriculum.

* The 7-12 grade alignment does not work well within the building, which was originally designed for grades 9-12 only.

* Lack of adequate space for physical education and athletics necessitate most athletic events to be held off-site.

* Lack of an auditorium or other adequate performance space.

* Several classrooms are in temporary modular space, requiring going outside to access; no toilet facilities in this modular space.

* The existing entrance arrangement does not allow adequate security or supervision.

* Site size is limited. Insufficient space for expansion to meet educational needs of combined high school/middle school.

* Limited site area also creates traffic conflicts between parking, car drop-off, bus drop-off and deliveries.

* District offices are currently located off-site due to lack of space.

Benefits of a new high school include:

* Ability to provide adequately-sized and equipped classrooms.

* Separating grade 9-12 from younger grades creates a separate high-school identity, with the ability to plan for future ‘zoned’ expansion.

* Adequate gymnasium and fitness space.

* On-site athletic facilities.

* Auditorium for music and drama performances.

* Secure entrance with adjacent administration space for proper supervision.

* Site size would provide adequate parking and eliminate traffic conflicts.

Benefits of converting the existing high school to house a grades 5-8 middle school and district offices include:

* Classrooms would be remodeled for adequate size.

* 5-8 grade alignment fits the district’s alignment goals. Co-location of the middle school on the same site as Jefferson Elementary creates a grades 1-8 campus.

* Reduction to only four grades in the building allows for adequate space.

* On-site location for district offices would allow discontinuation of leased space.

* Renovation at the main entry and relocation of the administration suite will provide better security and supervision.

* Site revisions will separate car and bus traffic.

* Temporary modular classroom spaces will be removed, freeing more play space.

Deficiencies of the existing Jefferson Elementary School building include:

* Preschool classes are located in the ‘annex’ building, separated from the remainder of the elementary. Inadequate space available to provide all desired programs.

* The current pre-kindergarten-3 grade alignment does not work well co-located with the grade 7-12 facility.

* The building lacks a multi-purpose space for indoor activities.

* The existing entrance arrangement does not allow adequate security or supervision.

* Special-needs class space is very limited, with some classes held in the hallway.

* Limited site size creates traffic issues.

Benefits of an addition and remodeling of the Jefferson Elementary School building include:

* New multi-purpose space.

* Renovation of the main entrance and administration suite will provide better security and supervision.

* Co-location with the 5-8 middle school meets district alignment goals.

* Traffic and play space issues are improved.

* Relocation of preschool and kindergarten to Washington Elementary allows adequate space for special needs programs.

Deficiencies of the existing Washington Elementary School building include:

* The existing 4-6 grade alignment is isolated on the Washington site.

* The gym and cafeteria spaces are inadequate for grade 4-6 students.

* The existing entrance arrangement does not allow adequate security or supervision.

Benefits of remodeling of the Washington Elementary School building include:

* The Washington School building would be converted to a pre-kindergarten/kindergarten center with adequate space for Community Education programs.

* Providing a separate pre-kindergarten site would allow development of both interior and exterior spaces better designed for younger students.

* The proposed project would expand/combine existing classrooms to provide the recommended sizes for preschool and kindergarten students.

* The existing gym and cafeteria are adequate for a pre-kindergarten program.

* Renovation at the main entry and relocation of the administration suite will provide better security and supervision.

The document also states that a new high school site has not been finalized, but will consist of a minimum of 45 acres and include the building, associated parking, athletic fields and other features.

The document outlines the projected tax impact of the project.

For example, taxes on a $100,000 home would increase by $57 per year, which is somewhat less than originally projected, at current interest rates, according to the document.

Taxes on an agricultural homestead with a market value of $100,000 and the first 80 acres of land would increase by $280, according to the document.

The decisions made Thursday are the latest step in a planning process that started last December. The steps approved by the School Board closely follow previously-reported recommendations of a broad-based community task force.

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