HJ/EDHerald Journal, Nov. 28, 2005

BUILD committee rallies for school building referendum

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Shag carpet, bell bottoms, disco balls, and pet rocks were making their debuts about the same time the schools in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District were last remodeled, and the group BUILD is actively trying to change that.

BUILD is made up of community members and stands for Building Unity In the Laker District. It is the group that is responsible for various signs, mailings, and promotional materials seen lately in the communities of Howard Lake, Winsted, and Waverly.

BUILD’s goal is to make a reality the proposed new high school for the district, and various renovations to the elementary schools, which were last updated in 1976.

“The point of BUILD is to inform the public of the importance of the issue and the bond referendum before them; to help develop a sense of school and community,” BUILD member Michelle Heuer said.

The bond referendum will be voted on Tuesday, Dec. 13. Until that time, BUILD will make its case for the bond to the voters.

Why vote ‘yes’?

BUILD believes it is important for communities to have a strong school system, which not only provides children with a good education, but helps promote residential and commercial growth.

So what is wrong with the existing school buildings?

“Education has changed tremendously over the last 20 to 30 years, so there is more responsibility for our society, and new things that our schools are responsible for,” School Board Chair John Lideen said.

Lideen cited programs such as all-day kindegarten, before- and after-school programs, increased testing, and the No Child Left Behind Act, as examples of the need to expand.

“In our communities, about 350 children open enroll somewhere else,” Heuer said.

She feels this is because the district is unable to offer some extracurricular activities or provide adequate help to those who may need it due to the No Child Left Behind Act.

“It’s important to remain competitive. Competitive is a good word to use with school districts, we either keep up or fall behind,” Heuer said.

The district is also growing at a rate of at least 25 new students per year, and shows no signs of stopping, with more than 2,000 lots either in development or currently available throughout the district.

The current facilities appear to be crowded, and several classrooms in both elementary schools are below the size recommendations set by the Minnesota Department of Education.

“Education takes more space than it used to. There are computers in every classroom, and kids learn better using a more hands-on learning approach, which requires space,” Heuer said.

A neighboring school district, Watertown-Mayer, passed all three questions on a $51 million referendum this past May for a new elementary school, remodeling of current facilities, and future expansion.

What is the proposal?

BUILD is excited about the proposal, but what does it exactly include, and when will it be done?

The proposal includes a new 114,623-square-foot high school for 500 students. Besides standard classrooms and labs, it will include at multi-purpose commons area, offices, media center, gym, and a 450-seat auditorium.

The proposed site for the high school is along Wright County Road 6, adjacent to Victor Township Hall, on a 73-acre plot of land.

Renovations to the elementary schools are also included, which would increase Humphrey Elementary by more than one-third, and more than double Winsted Elementary.

A new bus garage would also be built.

Construction would be completed by fall 2007.

This proposal also leaves room for future expansions, if needed, such as an addition to the proposed high school to accommodate a middle school or expand the high school. The new high school site could also support an additional school building.

Dollars and sense

Nothing ever comes for free, and if the bond passes, there will be a tax increase. BUILD knows this, but thinks it is in the best interest of the communities, and just makes sense.

“No one wants their taxes raised, but we think it’s important and fiscally responsible to ensure our children get a good education,” Heuer said.

The total price of the bond issue will be $26,465,000, to be repaid over a 25-year period.

This is a nearly 45 percent less than the bond issue introduced in 2003, about $21 million less.

“It’s not cheap construction, it’s fast construction,” Heuer said.

Heuer was among a group of BUILD and community members who toured a similarly built school in Medford recently. She was impressed with the quality of construction, and is confident it is in keeping with what the district needs.

But is this construction in keeping with taxpayers’ wallets? The tax impact on a $150,000 home will be $372 annually, or $31 monthly. (For a more complete tax breakdown, see tax impact box.)

Heuer knows no one wants to see their taxes increase, but also points to HLWW as having one of the lowest school taxes in the surrounding area, at more than $200 below the state average.

For more information regarding the bond referendum, visit www.hlww.k12.mn.us or www.buildhlww.com.


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