Hot Topics: Bertrang presents on school vote Aug. 12

NEW ULM – On Aug. 12, residents of District 88 will have the chance to vote on whether to issue a general obligation school building bond, not to exceed $46.9 million, to fund the construction of a new public high school.

Superintendent Jeff Bertrang spoke on the topic during a Hot Topic Breakfast at the Jefferson Cafeteria on Friday morning.

Bertrang answered questions and explained the reason for the proposed referendum.

Bertrang said the main issue was the need for adequate space. The high school was designed for grades 10-12, but is now being used for 7-12 grades. The District is currently using six portable classrooms and the old district offices to hold math classes. Without the referendum, the Jefferson site will need to bring in additional portable classrooms.

Bertrang summarized the problem saying, “The classrooms designed in the 1960s do not meet current programming needs.”

The influx of new technology also needs to be addressed with multiple computer labs. New programing opportunities which allow students to earn college credit require appropriate classroom designs.

Space issues also affect arts and sports. The fine arts facility is located off site, which requires busing and leads to lost academic time. Not enough athletic fields and facilities are available, forcing the district to have overlapping gym classes or rent athletic spaces. Football field rental fees can be as high as $500.

Bertrang explained that a task force was assembled to look into other space saving options, such as updating the former middle school. The cost of bringing the building up to code was an estimated $9.9 million and this approach would not have addressed the need for additional athletic or community spaces.

Bertrang also addressed the suggestion of adding a third story to the current High School. Bertrang stated that in 1995/1996 the district considered this option, but it was determined that construction standards and codes today made this alternative impossible. Engineers stated that it “might” be feasible, but a verification study would be needed. Other factors to consider would be the construction of stairs, elevators, and other systems up to code. In addition, this proposed third floor could only be used for classrooms and would still not address the gym, auditorium, kitchen, and commons space issues.

If approved, the bond would be used for construction of a new 140,000 square foot high school for grades 9-12, creation of new athletic fields and upgrades to the current high school and the Jefferson and Washington Elementary facilities. The district would take advantage of the new construction to tackle other priorities, such as increasing security at the entrances at all sites and improving the bus loading/uploading drop-off area at Jefferson.

The bond would cover the cost of land acquisition, construction and equipment needed for the project. Bertrang added that the cost of building the Performance Arts Center would be partly offset by a promised $1 million donation if the referendum passes.

If approved by voters, the next biggest question for the district is the location of the new high school. Bertrang stated the school would likely be on the west side of New Ulm. Several possible sites are being considered at this time. Bertrang acknowledged the school could be located in the country, but this would likely increase the cost, as new water wells and sewage lines would need to be constructed. Keeping the school in city limits would allow the district to tap into current water/sewer lines.

If the bond is approved, the tax impact would vary, but estimates are for a $57 increase per year for a home valued at $100,000. The bond would be in effect for 25 years. For a more detailed estimate, a tax calculator link is available at the school web page.

The referendum will be on a ballot during a special August 12 election that coincides with primary election. If approved, the new school is projected to open in 2016.

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