Herald and Journal, February 1, 1999

Task force gives new school recommendations

By Andrea Vargo

Recommendations for a new school were made to the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School Board by Long Range Facilities Task Force Co-chair Joe Campbell last Monday.

They were:

  • To build a 450 student high school for grades 9-12 in a campus-style environment.To convert the present high school to a middle school. The present building, which houses k-12, would house a distinct elementary and middle school, and pre-school.
  • To utilize the Waverly facility as an elementary school, serving preschool through grade three or four.
  • The Winsted facility would be considered for several options. It might remain as an elementary school, if operating funds are available, be operated by the City of Winsted for municipal use, or be retained by the school district for future innovative or accelerated learning programs.

There was a minor turn-out of about 40 people, with most of the public representation coming from school personnel and city officials.

Campbell explained the task force recommendations. He was followed with presentations by architect Bob Abendroth and financial consultant Carolyn Drude of Ehlers and Associates, Inc.

Campbell told the assembly that the task force, consisting of 15 business and civic leaders, parents, teachers, and administrators from Howard Lake, Waverly, and Winsted, had worked for the last year to investigate the needs of the school district.

"We analyzed the current facilities, researched educational requirements for the future, and studied trends and developments with the state and neighboring districts," he said.

The task force toured neighboring schools, reviewed the demographer's report, the architect's report, and a report on the condition of the present buildings in Howard Lake, Winsted, and Waverly.

Campbell said the current facilities are nearing capacity, due to increasing population, both in housing developments and in the rural areas.

Also, he said, the high school building is just old. It is in good repair, but not an attractive draw for families moving into the area.

The facility does not meet the needs of the new graduation requirements and is not competitive with the newer, more expansive facilities of neighboring schools.

He said the task force felt this is the main cause that 275 district students are open-enrolled to other schools.

The state aid that follows those students to other schools is significant, and the district needs to retain students in order to have a need for a high school in this area, said Campbell.

Scope of the project

The task force is recommending the new 450 student building be placed on at least 80 acres.

The core project includes the building, land, sewer and water hook-up, technology readiness, grounds improvement, and a bus garage.

In addition, the only major inclusion to the recommendation is a two-station gymnasium and bleachers.

The cost of the core package is estimated at $14.2 million.

Other major options that should be considered, said Campbell, are a 500-seat auditorium, a six-lane swimming pool, wrestling room, and grounds development.

Abendroth said that an eight-lane pool would allow the district to host regional competition, but the figures work out to about $150,000 per lane.

The public could vote on the core project and have the ability to accept or reject some of these options in a referendum, said Drude.

Location

The task force recommended that the new building be centrally located, between Winsted and Howard Lake.

A good road is necessary, and Wright County Rd. 6 would serve the purpose, said Campbell.

It needs to be close to sewer and water sources and be part of a system that can handle the facility.

Wetlands eliminate many sites along that County Rd. 6 corridor, said Campbell.

Abendroth told the board that the site needs to have appropriate soil and its own wells.

There needs to be on-site water storage for the possibility of a fire, he said, and this would most likely be an underground tank.

Local fire chiefs will have jurisdiction over how much water storage is needed, said Abendroth.

On-site waste treatment is not recommended, but a forced main with a monitoring system is a likely solution. A cost of $250,000 for this system is not unreasonable, he said.

Of course, said Abendroth, before it is viable, a site must be able to be purchased.

He said the cost of developing these sites also needs to be considered; grading, utilities, wetlands, etc.

Involvement with the district's cities was the next phase of the site research.

The City of Winsted has made a proposal to the district that includes three separate sites, and the task force is waiting for a proposal from Howard Lake. Waverly passed on the request for a proposal.

Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith told the board that Howard Lake has a number of sites it is working on.

He said the Howard Lake council wants to make sure the sites are right for both parents and kids.

Lester Prairie issue

There are opportunities that exist if a consolidation were to take place between HLWW and the Lester Prairie School District, according to financial consultant Drude.

Campbell said the Lester Prairie School Board had been contacted, but it showed no interest at this time.

"Have the people of Lester Prairie been involved in the issue?" asked one attendee.

"No, probably not," said Campbell.

He stated that this is a sensitive issue, and hopefully through the publication process, the people of Lester Prairie will talk to their board members and make their wishes known, if they are interested.

Dr. James Redfield, Superintendent of Lester Prairie Schools said the issue will be on the next Lester Prairie School Board agenda, Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m.

The benefit of consolidation long-term is that a larger district can operate more efficiently.

Immediately, however, there is a possible $6 million dollar advantage to be had in state grants, if two smaller districts consolidate and build a new secondary facility, said Campbell.

The grant could be utilized to build the swimming pool, auditorium, and other additions which would give students a highly competitive environment.

But due to the lack of interest by the Lester Prairie School Board, HLWW will go ahead on its own, Campbell said.

Financial report

Drude presented the financial information. She said the total bond issue for a 30-year bond would be about $13,880,000.

That is assuming the referendum passes next fall. Otherwise, she said, building costs increase about four percent per year, and that would need to be changed for a future referendum.

The good news is that the interest rates are good right now. Drude has seen them as low as 4.5 percent, but there is no guarantee of future rates.

HLWW has little debt, and is not a good candidate for state debt service equalization aid, said Drude.

School Board Member Randy Heuer asked Drude, "Is the state's share of any aid locked in?"

"No, if the state changes anything in the formula, that also changes (anything the school would get)."

"Any changes would be made by the legislators," she said.

Drude gave a property tax scenario for a $100,000 house. On the same 30-year bond issue that she described before, this house would have a tax increase of $248.49.

The homestead tax credit is still in place, and the total school portion of the tax statement for the average taxpayer would still be lower than in 1997, she said.

Of course, some taxpayers are eligible for a property tax refund at certain income levels, if they qualify, she said. So certain income levels could have some relief, said Drude.

"Can we count on the education credit staying with us?" asked one resident.

"No," said Drude, "we don't have any way to know how our tax system will be in 20 to 30 years. To the best of our ability, we will give up-to-date information."

Timeline

Campbell presented the board with a timeline that continues with the site recommendation, right on through the voting and building phases.

The next step is a recommendation of a few choice sites from the task force. That step was approved by the board.

The task force will work with Abendroth to have the sites selected by April for presentation and approval by the board.

April and May will be the time the teachers and administration work out the details of their needs in the new building.

There will be up to 60 days for review and comment by the Department of Children, Families and Learning, and then about 30 days of campaign before the vote in September on the referendum.

If the referendum passes, it will take about six months to develop the construction plans, 30 days for the bidding process, and 18 months of construction.

That would put the move-in date about Christmas, 2001.

Public comment

Board Member Carol Fury asked Campbell, "As a taxpayer, what will I get out of it if I don't have children in school?"

Campbell replied, "The school is the largest business in the city. It employs the most people. Our children are our future, and I'd like those children to be as good as we possibly can make them."

"I see this as a community function space," he said.

County Commissioner Dick Mattson said, ". . . this is a shiny apple when people come to the community."

Another citizen remarked, "Property values rise if the school system is good."

Campbell stated, "People do shop before they move to a new community. They ask questions; they call the school."

Another question asked was why the school was not being built for more students.

Task force member Jack Littfin said, "There are complications. Do we plan for those 275 (open-enrolled) students to come back?"

Campbell said that students whohave already gone will probably not come back, but their brothers and sisters will probably be future students (with a new school).

Said Littfin "How many do we plan for? We can't go in and build a school for all the students.

"We had to determine a reasonable growth factor. That was the hardest decision we had to make.

"We are not a rich district and felt we had to be conservative."

Abendroth said he used a class size of 25 students per class, so there is still some room to grow.

Drude told the board it is not locked into a final size until the issue goes to a referendum.

Another resident asked, "What are the chances of coming back and passing another referendum (for swimming pool, wrestling room, etc.) in five years?

Said Abendroth, "It depends on growth."

If the new school attracts more people, there is a larger tax base to spread out the cost, he said.

Concerns about transportation were expressed by one of the HLWW bus drivers.

He said, "One thing that was never addressed is the transportation issue. Better take a look at the costs and extra bus miles, (depending on where the school is built)."

Other comments included the desire to include the swimming pool in the core package, and a reiteration of the concern that the building is not being built for enough students.

Superintendent Riley Hoheisel stated that he felt the presentation and its reception were both positive.


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