By Lorae Vardas, Correspondent
Pierz school officials set in motion the process for holding a special election Monday, May 22, for approving an $18.45 million bond referendum. The board action came at the Feb. 22 meeting after reviewing pertinent information from Ehlers and Associates financial consultants, MLA Architects and RAMorton, construction managers.
Voters will be asked to authorize general obligation building bonds for multiple improvements at school sites/facilities that include construction of a new three-station gym for use by both elementary and high school students, conversion of the existing Pioneer Elementary gym into at least five more classrooms, construction of a new band room and auditorium at the high school, renovation of the old band room into added cafeteria space and enlargement of the elementary parking lot to better accommodate the new buildings and student pick-up/drop-off.
The election is contingent upon a positive review and consent from the Minnesota Department of Education, which has been submitted and is almost always approved. When received, the findings will be published in the Morrison County Record.
To get the ball rolling, the board contracted with MLA Architects to complete phase one of the bid package design not to exceed $155,000. This will allow for predesign of the many-faceted referendum.
If approved, the project will be on a fast-track bid process based on a construction start date of October, with the auditorium and gym. Conversion of the Pioneer gym into classrooms wouldn’t begin until 2018.
Preliminary costs for the various projects to be paid for by the bond, including furnishings and fixtures, are calculated as follows:
- Three-court gym for use by Pioneer and Healy High students – $9.46 million;
- High school auditorium – $5.1 million;
- Healy High band room – $1.5 million;
- Parking lots/site work – $1.7 million;
- Old band room renovation – $161,000;
- Cafeteria renovation – $102,400;
- Design and construction management – $2 million.
School officials are exploring all avenues to get the most bang for their buck. To be eligible for the lower bank qualified interest rates, the district is proposing the issuance of two general obligation 25-year bonds, the first in the amount of $10 million at 3.8 percent interest, and the second in the amount of $8.45 million at 4.10 percent interest.
Based on recent legislative funding changes, the district also has at its disposal some long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) funds for upgrading school property. The Board plans to utilize $2 million in LTFM funds when reconfiguring old and new construction as it relates to the auditorium, the Pioneer gym conversion into classrooms, parking lot work and band room HVAC.
If the referendum passes, preliminary tax information compiled by Ehlers and Associates indicates a residential homestead with a market value of $150,000 could go up about $258 in 2018. All other property classifications would likely see a tax increase because the estimated tax capacity rates would jump from the current 6.73 percent to an estimated 27.16 percent under the new debt.
Ehlers is working with the county auditor to set up accurate tax schedules and a website that taxpayers can access for specific information. More details on tax impact will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
“I am also trying to see if there is any way to calculate the potential decrease in local taxes that could result from any new legislation that is specific to debt service equalization, in addition to Ag2School data,” Supt. George Weber said. “There is a good chance the new debt service aid will pass.”
The administration has consulted with school personnel regarding facility needs and building design. The proposed projects have been part of the district’s long-range improvement plan for several years. Brochures with projected costs and more detailed tax information will be printed.
Weber also recommended a number of public meetings to inform the community about the referendum. The May 22 vote date was chosen because it doesn’t interfere with spring playoffs and other school activities that have already been scheduled.
Pierz School Board Briefs
In other agenda items at the Feb. 22 meeting, the Pierz School Board:
- Acknowledged donations of $250 from the Pierz Lions for the Art Club’s Empty Bowl Benefit; $500 from the Pierz Lions for the (EPIC) Encouraging Positive Influences and Choices program at the high school; $500 from George Weber for the Superintendent’s Scholarship; $500 from Landmark Products, Inc. for Peer Helpers; plus $200 from Sullivan Lake Property Owners Association and $50 from Buckman Lions for the high school Clay Target League;
- Accepted the retirement of Mark Jensen, 30-year teacher and award-winning wrestling coach, effective June 1. Under personnel, the Board also hired Mikki Young as special education paraprofessional at Pioneer Elementary for the remainder of the school year. Cathy Tetrault, elementary para was granted a four- to six-week medical leave and Amberly Hoheisel, elementary teacher, was approved for child care leave for the 2017-18 school year;
- Adopted new MSBA Policy 721 regarding federal revenue sources and Policy 704 regarding fixed asset accounting systems as previously reviewed;
- Authorized Pioneer Elementary Principal Tom Otte to act as the official representative in filing for federal program funds for the 2017-18 school year and to assure the district remains in compliance with all regulations;
- Entered into a transportation agreement with Onamia School District 480 to assure handicapped services between the two jurisdictions; and
- Authorized administration to advertise for bids for replacing portions of the high school building roof. Resource Training Solutions of Sartell is cooperating with Tremco in getting cost estimates. The company specializes in school roof replacement and products. Workers have been on the roof and already fixed some leaks.
The next regular meeting of the Pierz School Board is set for Wednesday, March 29, at 6 p.m. in the District Office Conference Room.