In December of 2013, the School Board officially adopted their most recent Strategic Plan. This plan contains 5 strategies, one of which states, “assuring facilities and transportation that are safe and meet program needs”. After 14 months of work, the Facilities Task Force submitted their final plan (draft) to the School Board on May 28th. This plan takes into consideration the current condition of our buildings, our safety and programmatic needs, and the community survey results. The following are some of the highlights of the plan:
1) Priority 1 – Address the needs of the junior/senior high school and reset the clock on it as a facility.
- Needs: This facility was built in 1972 which makes it a 43 year old building. All of the mechanical/ electrical systems, and the finishes are original. They are at the end of their expected life expectancy and need replacement. The office is in the middle of the building, which was typical for the early 1970’s. Modern buildings have them at the main entrance to control access and for other safety needs. The Industrial Tech and Ag wings were state of the art in 1972 but are now sorely lacking to prepare students today. The science labs are original and are also sorely lacking. The locker rooms were built prior to the onset of Title 9 legislation assuring equal facilities for both genders. The current girls locker room is ½ the size of the boys (clearly a Title 9 violation). The classrooms in the academic wing mostly have “temporary/moveable” wall panels. These are no longer manufactured and do not contain sound well. Additionally, education requires more “flexible” spaces today than in 1972. The serving area requires daily setup and breakdown, which is extremely labor intensive. Lastly, many believe that it is time for a performing arts center at this facility. For 43 years, students have traveled to the auditorium at Central for performances and many performances are in the gym at the high school (and at WIS) because of the difficulties this travel poses (set up, rehearsal, etc.). The auditorium at Central has other community events which leads to many scheduling conflicts. Lastly, when performances are scheduled in the gym, set up requires the loss of the gym for classes. A performing arts center attached to the JSHS would allow more performances in an auditorium setting, less conflicts in the gym freeing up the gym for classes and eliminate the schedule conflicts with community events.
i. Replace the mechanical systems at the building.
ii. Move the office to the front of the building.
iii. Renovate the Academic Wing, including the science rooms.
iv. Renovate the Industrial Tech and Ag wings.
v. Add a new girls locker-room and convert the existing locker room into a community/visiting team locker room.
vi. Add a permanent servery onto the kitchen.
vii. Add a performing arts center.
- Total estimated costs: $28.5 million
- Benefits: We will “start the clock anew” on this facility creating a practically new facility. St. Peter Schools recently passed a bond referendum and estimate the cost of $55 million for a brand new facility. We would have a comparable facility for significantly lower cost.
- Rationale: As a District, our aging facilities have more needs than our taxpayers can address at one time. This plan puts the vast majority of the money and invests it into the building where every student in our community attends. It effectively completely modernizes our most important facility.
2) Priority 2 – Address the security/safety needs at Central, Hartley and WIS.
3) Priority 3 – Address immediate deferred maintenance needs (replace the boilers at Hartley).
4) Priority 4 – Renovate first floor at Central to accommodate growing preschool needs and move current program (Adult Basic Education and ELL) to second floor.
- Cost: The cost of Priority 2,3 and 4 combined is $1.5 million
Total Project Cost - $30 million.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Have you looked at other scenarios?
- We have looked at several scenarios including shuffling students into different grade configurations and into different buildings. The reality is that no matter what configuration we are in, 3 of our 4 facilities have deferred maintenance needs and would require renovation to accomplish any potential change in configuration. No matter what configuration we examined, all kept the current JSHS as a facility. It was felt that the best investment would be to “reset the clock” on this facility. Besides, there is no compelling reason, at this date, to reconfigure the district.
- Why aren’t you investing more into Hartley?
- Everyone recognizes the positive feelings many in the community feel towards Hartley. It is a very warm and friendly environment for our primary students. However, most of this feeling is generated by the staff who have created this feeling, not the facility itself. If divorced from these feelings and we examine Hartley as a facility only, it has several significant drawbacks. The committee believes that the community should consider replacing Hartley in the future if enrollment remains as predicted in the next 15 years. Therefore, the committee wants to be prudent in how much is invested into a building that could be replaced “down the road”. In fact, one concept of financing this project would allow for this replacement with minimal future tax implications through something called step financing.
- What is step financing?
- Step financing allows for a greater amount of the debt to be paid in the first 15 years of the bond to create a “step” in year 16-20. This would create the tax capacity to replace Hartley. Of course, this is out in the future. The context would need to be monitored. This is why the plan calls for a facility planning team to reconvene every 5 years to monitor the “context”. If at the end of 15 years the context remains as predicted, perhaps another bond levy could be put before the voters that, because of the step financing of this project, would have minimal impact on the voters.
- Why aren’t you asking for less?
- The facilities, like homes, have needs. Outside audits have revealed that we have done an outstanding job of “picking the low hanging fruit” in deferred maintenance but the time has come for the more difficult decisions. Additionally, we have program needs to address. If we want to remain competitive as a School District and community, we need to address our needs.
- Why aren’t you asking for more? Don’t we have more needs?
- We indeed have more needs but the community survey revealed $30 million as the most the community would consider supporting. We believe that by addressing this plan, we can address some of the unmet needs through annual facility dollars we get from the State of MN. Additionally, this is a long term plan, including the step financing and the potential replacement of Hartley in 15 years.
- You refer to the community survey, what were the main messages from this?
- We have been told that the survey revealed some of the highest levels of community support for the schools that the consultant has seen in the state. We also have among the highest levels of tax hostility as they have seen in the state as well. We saw the $30 million as a hard number. Also, there were six items that had broad support including safety, science lab updates, etc., all of which are included in the plan. Other items had little if any support (like an additional gym). We stayed away from these.
- What do the tax implication statements mean?
- The preliminary statements are our financial consultant’s (Ehlers and Associates) best prediction of increased taxes on ASSESSED VALUE of property. Please remember the assessed value is usually less than what the property may be worth on the market. If the School Board decides for put a bond election on the ballot in November, we will create a link to a site where more accurate numbers based on the specific assessed value of property can be gathered.
- Why are you suggesting a November election?
- Everyone expects an election in November, even though there is no general election this November. We want the community to be heard. As a home-owner is responsible for the condition of their home, the community is responsible for the condition of it’s collectively owned facilities. Delaying an election could jeopardize projects costs (they would more than likely go up) and interest rates. We believe the longer the delay, the more it will cost the taxpayer if passed.