Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 5, 2003

State vetoes HLWW remodeling, board looks at new elementaries

By Lynda Jensen

Few kind words were directed toward the Minnesota Department of Education by Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board members during a special meeting Thursday.

The comments were in reaction to the state nixing remodeling options favored by HLWW school district public ­ leaving the board to look for alternatives that would achieve some results, but still satisfy the state.

Some board members expressed bitter disappointment, in particular with Bob Buresh of the Department of Education, who delivered a strongly worded, unfavorable review of the HLWW site options in a lengthy letter.

Buresh heavily criticized the district for not improving or updating facilities ­ leaving its facilities in less than adequate or deteriorating condition, he wrote.

"Neighboring school districts have improved or replaced existing school facilities and stabilized or increased student enrollments. HLWW has not improved or replaced its school facilities and is losing substantial numbers of students to other school districts," Buresh wrote.

Buresh continued "HLWW citizens are long past the time it should have taken to come together in the best educational interest of students to upgrade school facilities, student programs and services, and support district operations versus being overly concerned with the location of substandard schools."

"If HLWW cannot come together and effectively address existing issues," Buresh wrote, "the school district should consider dissolution and attachment to one or more neighboring school districts."

Not only did Buresh suggest the district dissolve if it can't resolve its differences, he also suggested demolishing the existing Winsted and Waverly buildings in favor of building new.

At the end of his letter, Buresh suggested HLWW could use about 20 percent of what it would cost to build new, or about $1.2 million at each facility.

Buresh's letter is printed in its entirety on the Viewpoints Page.

Board Member Charlie Borrell was offended by Buresh's suggestions, and said he thought Buresh should be horse whipped.

"I have no time for the guy," Borrell said. He felt that other schools seemed to have different policies applied to them, such as Delano. "Delano just added well over 60 percent," he said.

"Personally, I thought it stunk," commented Board Member Ken Zimmermann.

The state is out of touch with HLWW issues, and HLWW's situation is different than other districts, commented Board Member Al Doering.

Board Member John Lideen asked about incorporating a community center idea with a new school, and was told by Meyer that the state would prefer the district avoid this idea. Lideen pointed out other districts did this already.

"Why do they have us here?" Borrell asked out of frustration, referring to the state's ability to curtail the board's financial decisions. "Why doesn't the state take over?"

Meyer asked Borrell if he would be comfortable paying taxes for Minneapolis schools if those districts decided to build only 300 students (smaller) schools, ending up with twice the buildings, and twice the operational costs.

The state can veto any project over $500,000, or projects that equal 60 percent or more of building new facilities.

The state funds about 80 percent of the school district's annual operation, Architect Lee Meyer noted.

The anger at having the state tell the district what to do resonated with other board members, with some suggesting the district challenge Buresh.

"He seems to think he knows more about how to attract students more than we do," Doering said. "I don't think so."

Meyer attempted to head off this talk. "When you challenge the CFL, you don't win," he said.

This did not stop Borrell, Doering and Board Member John Lideen from continuing discussion about challenging Buresh.

Meyer described challenging the Department of Education as being an onerous task, requiring passage by the Legislature.

Another subject made clear by Buresh is that the Howard Lake building is too small and in a bad location ­ and the state would like to see it abandoned eventually. .

Another problem for the district is a famine of enrollment amid a feast of heavy residential growth in the area.

Doering noted that Wright County was the third fastest growing county in the state, and 50th fastest nationwide. This does not reflect enrollment numbers, which are constant or falling.

Board members did agree that a school building should remain in all three communities, but this does not necessarily mean an elementary will be in each of them.

The board will make the final decision, and formulate a long range plan by June.

A special board meeting was set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday June 4 to further discuss the issue.

New elementaries are very close to the cost of renovating the old

When the dust settled Thursday at the special HLWW school district meeting, two options were chosen by the board to be costed out.

Supt. George Ladd expressed hope that a solution could be found that would satisfy the state and public. "Together we can get there in steps," he said.

Former red option

One of the two options is a new version of the former red option, which previously favored remodeling of all three buildings.

Bob Buresh of the Department of Education noted that construction of new buildings at Waverly and Winsted would cost fairly close to remodeling (within $1 million to $2 million).

Remodeling and making additions in Waverly would be a minimum of about $6 million, which is 79 percent of the cost for building a new school there.

Remodeling and making additions to Winsted would be about $6 million, or about 94 percent the cost of building new there.

Since the state pays for most of the yearly operational costs, it has the power to veto referendum ideas even though the referendums are funded mainly by local voters, Supt. George Ladd noted.

Board member Charlie Borrell noted that the state was paying a small percent of the referendum cost, quoted at about 18 percent by architect Lee Meyer of KKE Architects.

Board members digested the idea of building new elementaries, which would house about 300 students each.

"It's not the ideal," commented Board Member Al Doering.

However, Doering noted that a positive argument could be made that this option will benefit the public just as much or more.

This idea would fit well with a long-range plan to eventually build a new middle and/or high school, it was observed.

In addition, it was noted that the climate at the Legislature may be different in two years. Requirements were updated in January this year.

It was also noted that there is enough land to build a new elementary in Waverly, although more land would be necessary in Winsted, which is something that could be accomplished.

Under this option the Howard Lake building would be untouched, leaving it for discussion in the future, possibly with the construction of a new school and/or middle school to replace it.

Additional options under this option included:

1. Purchase up to 80 acres (plus or minus) for future High School and future Middle School

2. Build track, football stadium and ball fields on new purchased land

3. Build multi-use gym at Waverly

4. Remodel / improve or expand Howard Lake auditorium

5. Technology system and equipment

6. Bus garage

New option

Another option being costed out is construction of a new middle and high school, spanning from fourth to 12th grades.

This would entail kindergarten through third graders attending Winsted and Waverly; with no elementary available in Howard Lake.

One parent from the audience indicated that fourth graders are only 9 years old and this was too young for students to be placed in a middle school environment.

The Winsted building would house 100 students and Waverly 200 students.

The Howard Lake building would be closed entirely under this option.

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