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Voters will decide on November 19
By Caroline Downs
The Kenmare School Board rolled forward with a proposed building project for the district when it endorsed a plan to build a new gymnasium, locker rooms, 12 elementary classrooms and office space at Kenmare High School.
The plan, referred to as “Option 2,” would cost an estimated $14,172,805.00, according to Kraus-Anderson Construction which has consulted on the project.
That total includes $600,000 to remodel and expand the ag lab area and $1.089 million in deferred maintenance expenses expected at the high school building during the next 5 to 10 years. Those expenses would have to be addressed regardless of any additional construction.
The board scheduled a special election for Tuesday, November 19, 2013, when voters will be asked to approve or reject an increase in the school district’s limit of indebtedness as well as a bond for the construction project.
A majority of voters has to approve both questions in order for the district to request bids for the building project.
No action is
not an option
The decisions were made September 24th during a special school board meeting that started with board members reviewing the actual site of the proposed project directly north of the current high school building. Superintendent Duane Mueller and board president Jan Kostad marked the site with stakes to indicate the size of the addition and approximate locations of the gymnasium and classroom areas.
Discussion began with the option to do no building project. “Do we have enough information or ideas here to go forward, or do we table this for another six months to a year?” Kostad asked.
Blaine Huff and Lars Christensen immediately refused to table the project, but Michele Nelson expressed a concern about finding supplemental money to pay for a portion of the project. “That way, we don’t have to rely totally on the taxpayers,” she said.
“If additional money becomes available along the line, we could put it toward the project,” Huff countered.
Kostad noted current interest rates remain near all-time lows. “Financing for a project like this will never be better than it is now,” he said. “I feel doing a building project now is in the best interests of our patrons, because we are going to be here for the next 50 years.”
He said he had been considering the efforts of the Kenmare School Board in the late 1960s when they had to wrestle with the question of building a new high school.
“Looking back nearly 50 years at that building project, I’m sure they had similar questions to ours,” he said, “but if they hadn’t done the project, where would we be today?”
Option 3, making changes
to elementary building
Discussion turned to Option 3, which involved a proposal to remodel 12,000 square feet of space at the current Kenmare Elementary School and construct an addition of 25,000 square feet to include eight classrooms and a new gymnasium.
The total cost of the project was estimated at $10.45 million, including $1.035 million in deferred maintenance expenses expected at KHS.
No board member favored the option, with Christensen saying the project would keep the two buildings divided and students would still have to be transported between gym facilities for practices and games.
Nelson said the original discussion about a building project started with the need for a second gymnasium at the high school, not the elementary building, while Huff pointed out adding on to an already-old building may not serve the board’s intentions for 50 years into the future.
Option 1, with new
gym at high school
With no motion regarding Option 3, Kostad moved the discussion to Option 1 involving a 19,000 square foot addition to the high school to include a new gymnasium, locker rooms and food service area.
The total cost of the project was estimated at $8.55 million, including $2.124 million in deferred maintenance expenses at both school buildings and about $300,000 designated to remodel the high school ag lab space.
No classroom space would be added to the district, despite Superintendent Mueller’s projections that two classrooms each will be needed for kindergarten, first and second grades next year.
“We don’t have to split classes,” Nelson said. “That depends on the needs and evaluation of the class. The circumstances change every year, as far as learning needs.”
Kostad said portable classrooms could be purchased to accommodate grade levels that needed to be divided because of high enrollment numbers. He estimated a cost of $200,000 per portable unit, including purchase price and associated expenses to set up the structure for the school’s use.
“Looking at Option 1 and adding about $600,000 for three portables, we would be up to about $9.5 million for that option,” he said.
Option 2, for gym
and classrooms at KHS
No motion was made to act on Option 1, so Kostad asked board members to review Option 2. He pointed out the flexibility offered by the option. “I like the idea that if enrollment numbers did drop, we could put grades kindergarten through six in the new portion,” he said. “We could also add classrooms there for the sixth grade if we wanted, although that would cost about $250,000 for each extra classroom.”
Other board members indicated they had heard positive comments from patrons about Option 2. “Everyone I talked to overwhelmingly supported it for their own reasons,” said Craig Ellsworth, “but also for a lot of the same reasons we’ve been talking about.”
Nelson said the majority of people she had heard from were against the $14 million option, and she expressed reluctance to support any new building project.
“This is a hard decision for a group of people to have to make,” she said. “We have to consider what we’re doing for the long-term financial stability for the district.”
“But we also have to consider that we’re here for the best interests of our kids,” said Doug Miller.
Kostad pointed out the project design would allow the district to move ahead with construction of a new gym, then add classrooms later. “We’d have to consider a conservative cost increase of five percent a year,” he said, “so in 15 years, our costs would probably double to $25 million for the project.”
He continued, “Right now, it costs an extra $5 million for Option 2. If we think about an increased cost for construction in the future and probably higher interest rates, the number of mills needed to cover that would be higher than we’re looking at now.”
“If you look at the next 50 years, you’re money ahead in the long run,” Christensen said. “We’re better off just to do it all.”
Option 2 costs
Kostad reviewed costs for the project, starting with $13,500 generated per mill per year for the district at this time and a 20-year term for general obligation bonds at 2 percent interest. The estimated cost of Option 2 would require 61.42 mills to finance a $13 million new construction and remodeling project.
He went on to explain the breakdown of costs to taxpayers. Agricultural property owners would pay approximately $287 extra per year per quarter of land, assuming an average true and assessed value at $93,400 and a taxable value (5 percent of true and assessed value) of $4,670.
Residential property owners would pay approximately $307 extra per year per $100,000 of true and assessed value on their homes, while commercial property owners would pay approximately $276 per year.
“So, I estimate about $4,700 per quarter of farmland over 20 years,” he said.
Nelson said the biggest question she heard from patrons was about their total cost of the project for the life of the bonds. “Our property tax numbers keep going up, and mills can fluctuate,” she said.
Kostad said the 61.42 mills to pay off the bonds would be fixed for the 20-year term.
“I think about the landowners and property owners who paid for this [high school],” Christensen said. “Somebody had to build this building 40 years ago.”
Kostad reminded board members that for at least the next two years, no one would pay 100 percent of their property taxes because of action taken by the state legislature last spring. “Property owners will pay 88 percent of the assessment,” he said. “The state will pay 12 percent. That’s across the board.”
Final comments before
board takes vote
Miller offered a motion for the Kenmare school board to endorse Option 2, which Ellsworth seconded.
Nelson repeated her opposition to the project. “Would it be nice? Absolutely,” she said. “Do I think it’s justified? No. I’m more in favor of dealing with maintenance issues and upgrades. I never was, and I haven’t been, on board for this large-scale project.”
Kostad pointed out the district’s increased enrollment of about 40 students over the past six years.
“It’s not fast growth, but it’s steady,” Christensen said. “I’ve run into a lot more people who are positive about it. I guess I know how much extra it will cost me, and I’m fine with that.”
“It will never be cheaper,” Huff said. “I think it’s time to do it.”
“Look at the numbers of little kids coming in,” Miller said, referring to the current preschool enrollment in Kenmare. “If we get an influx [of students] of 20 percent, what we’re planning can handle it, or it will work for [the student numbers] we have now.”
The Kenmare school board passed the motion to endorse Option 2 on a 5-1 roll call vote.
Resolutions for bond issue,
debt limit, special election
In accordance with mandated procedures, the board went on to pass three resolutions related to the building project on a 5-1 roll call vote.
The first resolution covered the issue of the district’s general obligation school building bonds in the amount of $14 million for the construction, remodeling and equipping of the new gym, classrooms and related space at Kenmare High School.
The second resolution addressed the request to voters to increase the debt limit of the school district from the current 5 percent limit on the assessed value of taxable property in the district.
That assessed value is currently $127 million on the district’s property in Ward, Renville, Burke and Mountrail counties. The district is carrying a debt of $600,000 left to pay on the $1.54 million renovation and remodeling project for the classroom section of Kenmare High School. The project was approved in 2010.
Voters will be asked to approve an increase of 5 percent in the debt limit, to 10 percent total.
The third resolution established a special election for Tuesday, November 19, 2013 for patrons to approve or reject both the bond for the construction project and the increase in the district’s level of indebtedness.
Polls will be open at Kenmare High School that day from 8 am to 7 pm.
Kostad announced another public meeting will be scheduled for late October or early November to specifically discuss the building project.
Next board meeting
The Kenmare School Board will hold its next regular meeting on Friday, October 11th, beginning with a tour of the facilities at the Donnybrook Community Center.
Board members will leave Kenmare High School approximately 7 am to drive to Donnybrook. They expect to return to KHS to continue the meeting at approximately 8:30 am.
The public is welcome to attend any or all of the meeting.