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A closer look at the school bond referendum
Sept. 28, 2015

Gabe Licht

DELANO, MN – Voters within the Delano School District will go to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 3, to decide on two questions the district is asking.

What are those questions, why is the district asking them, and how much are they expected to cost?

Question 1
Question 1 asks, “Shall the school board of Independent School District 879 (Delano) be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $46 million to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including the construction and equipping of a new grade four through six intermediate school building; the construction of improvements to existing school facilities; the construction of a secure, controlled entry for the high school, including security and safety improvements; and the construction of parking and traffic flow improvements?”

Question 1 includes $24 million for a new school for grades four through six, pulling one grade out of the elementary building and two grades out of the middle school building.

The new building is expected to hold 500 to 600 students.

“We haven’t gotten anything on specific designs,” Superintendent Matt Schoen said. “The reason we don’t do that is so when we get into planning and design committees, we’ll get involvement from community and staff members . . . Let’s get the idea of the concept passed before we give ourselves permission to get into planning.”

The estimate is based on square footage and capacity needs.

With the middle school and high school identified as being in the worst physical condition, functionally the worst for education, and with the most inflexible infrastructure, several renovations would take place, at a price of $19.2 million.

Renovations would begin with creating one secure entrance for the building, entering through a joint high school and middle school office. The cafeteria and commons area would also be expanded.

“As you move offices out, that will become academic areas; that will create space for classrooms,” Schoen said. “We potentially could be looking at two or three more classrooms for seventh- through 12th-grade science. We just don’t know the specifics yet.”

Currently in the high school, six science teachers share five science classrooms, including two that are original to the building and three that were added in the ‘90s.

Technical education and music rooms would also be redesigned and locker rooms would be brought up-to-date.

Maintenance issues would be addressed, as well.

“The boiler system is original and antiquated,” Schoen said. “When you expand the schools, that stresses the system. Deferred maintenance funds we get through the state or we can authorize to levy cover a fraction of the cost . . . I have to save four or five years to put on a new roof. We’ve tried to maintain our buildings. It’s just one Band-Aid after another.”

Outside of the high school and middle school, parking lots would be redesigned to improve traffic flow. Parking would also be added next to the new school building and east of the middle school.

Both the elementary and community education buildings would receive $1.4 million in renovations if Question 1 were approved.

Originally, the elementary school was built for about 600 students, and an addition bumped that number up to 778. Currently, 880 students use the elementary school. Moving one elementary grade to the new building would decrease that number to 705, but part of the school would be expanded.

“We’re expanding quite a bit onto the cafeteria,” Schoen said. “This becomes a huge pinch point, even with fewer students in it.”

About a third of the $1.4 million for the community education building would go toward an elevator.

“The physical space for community education is great,” Schoen said. “But, a number of students can’t use stairs, so they can only be on the main floor.”

Other physical improvements would make the space more functional, as nearly all the space is now being used, compared to 12 to 15 years ago ,when only the main floor was being used, Schoen said.

Question 2
Question 2 asks, “If Question 1 is approved, shall the school board of Independent School District 879 (Delano) also be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $19 million to provide funds for the betterment of school sites and facilities, including the improvement of physical education/athletic field space; renovation of the swimming pool and related improvements; the construction of an addition to the Tiger Activity Center at the high school and related renovations; and the construction of a performing arts center addition to the high school?”

A performing arts center is slated to cost $8 million.

“A lot of people raised money for the auditorium to do renovations and it’s a wonderful, beautiful thing,” Schoen said. “The auditorium was designed to house the high school. We can’t house two grades in there, now. We just need the space for performing arts.”

While the current auditorium holds about 430, the new performing arts center would hold a minimum of 600 and, likely, 800 to 1,000.

“It will turn into drama space, it will be a lecture hall, it will be a multipurpose curriculum space to learn,” Schoen said of the current auditorium.

Several upgrades to fields and activity spaces would cost $4.5 million, including stadium revisions, refurbishing ballfields, adding a new field south of the baseball field, adding two additional tennis courts, fixing the surface of the all-purpose field east of the hockey arena, and adding multipurpose locker rooms to the hockey arena.

“This is multipurpose now,” Schoen said of the stadium. “It’s no longer a football stadium that gets used six to 10 times a year because we can’t use it any other time because it’s not safe because the turf is so bad. We’ll turf that field and another field and repurpose the three ballfields to make them more efficient and user-friendly, not just for baseball, but other activities.”

Schoen said installing synthetic turf would allow the district to be more efficient with its space.

“People say it’s expensive to turf fields,” Schoen said. “Actually, we can’t afford the luxury of a natural grass field because we need to use it way more than 10 times a year. If you have a wet spring, lacrosse can’t play on it and phy ed can’t go on it. We’ll use it for phy ed, for youth programs, and our athletic teams.”

Schoen noted that Rockford utilizes synthetic turf and Buffalo will be adding turf soon, and also referenced studies that say fewer injuries take place on synthetic turf than natural turf.

A Tiger Activity Center addition and renovations would come in at $3.8 million.

“We built the TAC in 2003, and the number of our community members using it has grown tremendously since then,” Schoen said. “We’re running out of space for those folks and phy ed, because we’re educating more kids.”

Pool renovations would account for the final $2.7 million.

“When we do the repurposing of the pool, we’re going to add a diving well,” Schoen said. “Right now, they give up points every time they compete at home because we don’t have a diving well. That will go where the middle school entrance is now.”

Schoen noted many of the athletic-related upgrades are due to safety concerns.

“Some say there’s too much focus on athletics,” Schoen said. “This is not necessarily a focus on athletics. This is an issue of safety. Athletes can no longer compete on these types of surfaces anymore.”

The history behind the bond referendum
In 2007, the district asked three questions regarding a levy to operate a school, land for a new school, and auxiliary items. While the levy in the first question passed, the other two questions did not.

In 2008, the district asked again for land for a new building, and the community approved the purchase of that land.

The district went on to develop a strategic plan, and facilities made up a significant portion of that plan.

Fast-forwarding to fall of 2014, a 30-member committee made up of community members began meeting to discuss facility needs, culminating in the recommendation to the board for $65 million in projects and improvements.

Why a bond referendum?

The facilities committee identified four reasons to address facility needs: improving safety and security, increasing space capacity for learning, extending the current facility life span, and enhancing opportunities for students and the community.

“For any member of our community who has come into the front entrance of our high school and middle school, you notice at once that our entrances are not as safe and secure as they should be,” Schoen said.

“In addition, we are projected to increase up to 350 students over the next 10 years, creating capacity issues in all three of our schools,” Schoen continued.

He noted that migration to the district is high and difficult to predict.

When asked about the impact of open enrollment, Schoen clarified the district has capped open enrollment at 1 percent annually, as state statute does not allow a district to cap it at a lower rate.

Currently, about 300 students are open enrolled into Delano Schools, while about 100 students from the Delano district are open enrolled in other districts.

Information for taxpayers
The homepage of the district website (www.delano.k12.mn.us) includes several resources for taxpayers under the heading “Referendum 2015.”

Included in those resources is the tax calculator for residential property.

It breaks down the tax impact on the average home price of $225,000 as follows: $329 annually, or $27.42 monthly, for Question 1; $153 annually, or $12.75 per month, for Question 2; and $161 annually, or $13.42 per month, for the existing operating referendum levy that would go into effect if Question 1 is approved. The total for both questions and the operating levy would be $643 annually, or $53.57 monthly.

Commercial and agricultural property estimates are available from Ehlers, who is working with the district on the financial aspects of the bond referendum.

For commercial property, the impact of the two bond questions, not counting the operating levy, would be $2,143 annually for $500,000 worth of property.

Homesteaded agricultural property worth $400,000 would see an impact of $582 from the two bond questions, not including the operating levy.

For non-homesteaded agricultural land valued at $5,000 per acre, the impact of the two bond questions, not including the operating levy, would be $11.59 per acre.

For more information, email referendum@delanoschools.org or call the district office at (763) 972-3365 ext. 2111.

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