Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 8, 1999

Options for LP school district considered

By Luis Puga

In a sparsely attended special meeting last Monday, the Lester Prairie School Board looked to the future and talked about options for the district.

Of concern was what long range facilities would be needed and how the school district should go about fulfilling that need.

The discussion included options of expanding, consolidating with another district, reviewing what legislation to support at the state, and what information the board needs to make any decisions.

According to information brought to the board by Superintendent James Redfield, the school building is not designed to have a second floor built on top of it. The facility has neither a concrete deck to support another level or spaces for stairwells.

Redfield also said that the architect said that there may not be enough support to have a concrete deck on the older section of the building, and that renovating it for a concrete deck would require the roof to be off for nine months.

However, this information was only solicited from the architect for the old section and the new section was not considered. The board felt that the new section of the facility probably did not have the necessary design specifications to support a second floor either.

Some discussion concerned a courtyard on the south end of the school. When the addition for the school was bonded, that area was slated for an extra gym.

However, Lester Prairie citizens voted for a more economical option, so that portion of the block has gone unused.

Consolidation with Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted was also discussed. However, Chairperson Gene Starke said he had asked for more information from the HLWW school district and has not gotten a response.

There was some discussion as to the cost of the proposed new HLWW school. The board understood that a new high school with consolidation would come to around $10 million.

A $6 million grant would reduce the cost from about $15.8 million. Without Lester Prairie, the cost would be about $14 million, the board said.

However, it noted that the figure with the grant subtracted did not include the extra amenities cited in the original report. Board members expressed uncertainty at the validity of the figures and whether the high school would accommodate all four cities.

Board member Nancy Krull noted also that the $15.8 million did not go along with the original report that the grant would be used to accommodate amenities such as a pool.

The information Starke wanted was how much the levy would be for Lester Prairie residents if consolidation occurred, not for all three cities together. As of the meeting, he still had not received that information.

Starke said he would like to know that amount so the board and residents could know how much an increase in taxes would result from pairing, and what they could do with that amount if they spent it in their own district.

The board was also concerned with not just figures of building costs, but also what operational and transportation costs would ensue if the new school were built.

Another reason the board held off on its decision was because the teachers have yet to meet to voice their concerns over facilities. Their input would also have to be taken into account in the decision, the board said.

Still another concern was what Prudence Gushwa, a professor at Mankato State University who is doing a study for the district, would recommend from her findings.

Board members asked when Gushwa would be ready to present, and Redfield said that she would not be ready by next meeting. However, he will seek to get an update from her by then and it has been added to the agenda for that meeting.

Redfield listed the options the district has.

They included having a referendum for the district and building or renting space if it is to maintain the school as is. Also, he mentioned consolidating with another district or dissolving the district.

Under consolidation, Redfield mentioned options such as consolidating with HLWW, Glencoe-Silver Lake, or cooperating with Holy Trinity in some fashion.

Other options would be to just maintain a middle school in Lester Prairie.

The board insisted it is still on record to go ahead with the excess-levy referendum it has been discussing for the election in November.

Yet another idea Redfield asserted was to consolidate with just Winsted. Winsted would have to un-pair with HLWW.

Overall, the board is still seeking more input from its citizens, and Starke has said there has been some negative reaction to the idea of a survey. Redfield said he believed he could get some information from the auditor.

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