Deb Marcotte, Executive Director of HVED, visited the Rushford-Peterson school board meeting July 17, to share a current update on the potential purchase of the Winona Mall by HVED. Marcotte informed the board that HVED has been actively searching for a centralized location for 10 years.
Superintendents of the 12 member districts had decided one central site located in Winona would be best. At this point, a new joint powers agreement, with all schools agreeing to it, is needed before the HVED board can move forward with a purchase. Attorneys have put the agreement together and will present it to the involved superintendents July 18.
Recently, the board was provided with information on costs based on a $19.5 million all in cost; the purchase price of $4.5 million, and all remodeling costs are included in that amount. HVED is hoping to pare down the costs to $15-$16 million; the replacement of the building’s roof (at a cost of $1.8 million) is currently included and might be delayed. Marcotte assured the board that HVED will be focusing on spending the money to benefit the students the most.
According to Marcotte, the good news is that it will be easier if all of the staff and programs are together. She hopes to be able to work cooperatively with other schools, colleges, and other services in the area. She pointed out that Winona State students could do practicums and student teaching easily at the facility. Winona Health and Hiawatha Mental Health are located nearby and would be easy to access.
HVED is creating a list of reasons why this is a good thing. “We have answers to questions and I think we have good answers,” Marcotte emphasized, “There’s never a good time (for a big purchase), but there is a right time.”
Marcotte shared that she felt staffing would be easier in Winona; with a larger pool of potential employees, it will be easier to hire qualified people. She noted that it will be easier to secure and retain staff if they do not have to travel as far. It will also reduce mileage for schools to transport students to one more centralized location.
Nancy Snyder asked if the facility is big enough for future needs. Marcotte responded that the SAIL program (level IV behavior) has doubled in size since Covid due to more “violent” and “aggressive”student behaviors while SPECTRUM (an autism program) didn’t even exist a few years ago. HVED is trying to make the new spaces in the building as flexible as possible and fully develop the building for best, most economical use.
When Carl Schollmeier asked how fast HVED will outgrow the facility, Marcotte answered that HVED is making decisions to last 15 to 20 years. She reminded the board that students are given the tools they need and then transition out of the program back to their home schools when they are ready.
R-P has some students who are in the SAIL program, but was unable to enroll a few more because of staffing issues. Locating it in Winona could more easily increase staffing and cut down on transportation to other locations.
At this time Dr. Ben Bernard does not have firm estimates on how such a purchase will affect the R-P taxpayers. With the final cost not yet determined, the amounts individual taxpayers would need to pay varies a lot. R-P would be responsible for 6.91% of the total cost. A rough estimate is that a $300,000 home would be taxed around $39 per year; the taxes for farmers would depend on acreage owned and could range between $100 and $500 per year (61 cents an acre at the upper level).
The school board is being asked to use its authority to approve a tax increase. Bernard wants them to have all the information and know what the timeline and final expense will be so they can make an informed decision and have better estimates of the tax impact.
Bernard acknowledged that changes need to be made to deliver necessary services to R-P students. The distance and centralized location in Winona would help with transportation of students needing those services.
After the HVED board meets July 26, they should be able to supply more precise information for the RP board to make an educated decision on the purchase.
In their regular business meeting the board:
•Approved the LTFM (long term facilities maintenance) Plan for the next 10 years;
•Approved requesting bids for snow removal;
•Accepted bread bids from Pan-O-Gold, milk bids from Kemps, and gas bids from Pam’s Corner;
•Approved renewal of MSHSL membership;
•Heard that RP has received a $3,000 grant for staff wellness;
•Completed a superintendent evaluation in closed meeting; a summary of the results will be shared at the next board meeting.
The next RP board meeting will be held August 21 at 6 p.m. in the forum room. The public is welcome to attend.