Herald JournalHerald Journal, July 18, 2005

LP unveils plans for new district activity center

By Lynda Jensen

Tentative plans for a new Lester Prairie School District Activity Center were unveiled last Monday at the school board meeting.

The plans include two full gym floors with bleachers to accommodate seating for 300 people each, lockers, and one 32’ x 32’ community room, for a cost of just under $2 million.

Board members hailed the idea as a cost effective way to address activity needs at a time when other schools are looking for expansions in the $40 million bracket.

The price tag includes site preparation and money to purchase property to the east, along with construction of a building with a steel and brick facade. The floor will be athletic turf, since wood was deemed too expensive.

It does not include operation of the center, which the board hopes will be staffed and open during nights and weekends.

Board Member Bob Carlson noted that seniors could use the center as a walking track, which would be painted on the floor.

The center will not address additional classrooms, but Lester Prairie could look at buying land down the road for an elementary school, and convert the existing building into a high school, Miller said.

A “yes” committee is being formed for the fall ballot.

The board took no official action. However, it must decide by its next meeting what to do with the plans, in order to make deadlines for the November election.

Supt. Joe Miller intends to meet with the Department of Education Tuesday to obtain approval for the project.

“It’s a short time frame,” Miller said. “By Sept. 1 we have to have everything set into place.”

Miller mentioned a lease option arrangment, but only to say that he thought the voters should be given a chance to vote on the project. A lease option would allow the district to sidestep voter approval if it took this route.

The district is looking to expand parking to the north, where the house is located that was being used for early childhood and preschool students.

Early childhood and preschool are being moved back to the main building, and the house will stand vacant.

In fact, the board hopes to sell the building, so that it could be moved off that property.

“No reasonable offer would be refused,” Miller said after the meeting, noting that if someone took the house off the district’s hands, it would save the school about $11,000.

“It’s a building the school doesn’t want,” he said. Anyone interested should contact Miller at (320) 395-2521.

Board OKs pairing

In what Miller described as a non-permanent “marriage of convenience,” the board approved pairing junior high volleyball and football with Holy Trinity, and also gave the green light to look into pairing junior high girls’ basketball and track.

Some parents attended the meeting, asking about the pairings, such as if Winsted uniforms will be worn and where the practices will be.

Athletic Director Ron Erpenbach confirmed that Holy Trinity uniforms will likely be worn since the district didn’t want to spend $15,000 to pay for them.

For the first year, all football practices will be in Winsted, and all the volleyball will take place in Lester Prairie.

This schedule will rotate the following year, with practices being in the reverse locations. This will help control busing costs.

This will be hard to swallow since Holy Trinity has normally been considered a prime rival, the parents noted.

Erpenbach said that some towns are refusing to play Lester Prairie because there’s not enough grades competing.

Miller noted that all the coaches are from Lester Prairie.

Finances look better

The state’s budget numbers were good news for Lester Prairie, Miller said.

The state will increase school funding by 4 percent in the general education formula.

However, a drawback is that half of this money must be spent on staff development, he said. “For us, our need is more in genereal education funding, not staff development,” he added.

In addition, Miller said he doubted this source of revenue would exist in two years and so was unwilling to make major decisions on an unstable source of income.

The city continues to grow, it was noted, which will help the school grow with more students.

In addition, enrollment numbers for elementary went up by 20.

Numbers last year were 201 and are expected to be 221 this year, with the biggest gain in kindergarten classes, which increased by five. Enrollment for seventh through 12th grade went down by three, but this isn’t bad news either since it was expected to drop more, Miller said.

The total enrollment for this year is expected to be 236, and was 239 last year.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• increased activity fees by an average of about $10 for various junior and varsity activities.

• noted that parents should have the option of looking up grades, assignments, lunch accounts, and other information online sometime this year. This will require passwords and the like, it was noted.

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