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R-P board takes a look forward

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Feb 1st, 2013
Posted in Rushford Education

Just six weeks past a rejected referendum for a new $15 million, early childhood through grade 5 facility, the R-P board once again took an in-depth look at what can be done with the district’s aging facilities. With four new members on the board, including Valerie Howe, Julie Koop, John Linder, Taylor Peterson, discussion covered public opinion, scope of plans, financial planning, and potential future plans.

“I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the referendum and have come to the following conclusions,” began Superintendent Chuck Ehler who presented a prepared document to the board. The top five conclusions, based on post-referendum information were:

•We have to keep the building in Peterson open and will need to plan to update the building.

•Tax impact – Our citizens felt the tax impact was too great.

•There is a belief that we can invest in our current facilities vs. a new building.

•We need to more directly involve our government entities (city of Peterson, Village of Rushford, and City of Rushford).

•Our citizens and residents want a plan that is long-range and comprehensive. They want a “one and done” project.

Based upon those reflections, Ehler went on to suggest the district move forward with five items. First, the hiring of architectural firm ATS&R and ICS Consulting to complete an educational analysis of the buildings. According to Ehler, this will provide a thorough engineering analysis of both buildings, including mechanical, electrical, heating, and technology assessments.

Secondly, the hiring of David Drown Associates to complete a fiscal impact study. Used by the city of Rushford for both short and long-term project and financial planning, Ehler believes this would assist in a cooperative effort between the district and city government in gauging the impact of the cost associated with updating our facilities or building a new facility for early childhood-grade 5 and grades 9-12.

After an analysis is complete, Ehler would then suggest the district begin to update and improved the Peterson facilities through deferred maintenance funds. According to Ehler, this would consist of a new boiler, flooring (carpeting), windows, lockers, and covering the exterior in steel, and could be accomplished within three years.

Next, an analysis of the elementary/high school buildings would determine all facets required to update the Rushford facilities. This would consist of new boilers, flooring (carpeting), windows, lockers, roofs, electrical, sprinkler system, etc. It was noted within the document that the update of the elementary/high school may involve bringing in portables to complete the updates in the 1906 and 1936 portions of the building. This update could be accomplished within two to three years.

Lastly, Ehler suggests the efforts to secure financial assistance from the state continue. Legislative lobbyist Peg Larsen has been hired for this purpose. In addition, the district will continue its partnership with the Moose Lake School District, which was also impacted by a natural disaster. Ehler believes there is potential in the future to secure some state funding. The district is seeking $20 million to assist with updating the facilities.

“I hope to have building analyses completed by late spring. Hopefully, by late spring, we would also have a better feel for possible stat funding or assistance,” says Ehler. “I envision having a referendum ready for our citizens to vote on in late October. The goal is to have some alternatives for our citizens to consider and to make our plans a comprehensive long-term solution for our facility needs.”

Ehler encouraged the board to set up a meeting with ATS&R and ICS Consulting. “It’s my assessment, if we maintain or update, let’s get the best bang for our buck. We need to take all things into consideration. Let’s do it right,” he continued.

New board member Taylor Peterson, who’d been an outspoken citizen against the referendum plans, suggested the district budget for the facilities, with more coming out of the general fund, as opposed to being levied out through health and safety. “Whether new or renovated, it’s never one and done,” said Peterson. “I think we need more budgeting for facilities, with the rest carrying over for the next budget. I’d like to see two or three opinions from firms.”

Ehler cautioned against multiple analyses, citing that the $15,000-20,000 would then double or triple the district’s costs. “It’s twice the money for the same issue,” stressed Ehler. “I can’t be supportive of double spending. I can assure you ICS Consulting and ATS&R figures are accurate.”

New board member John Linder questioned the rise in costs. In 2002, the district held a referendum for an $18 million, early childhood to grade 12 facility, which was also defeated. “$18 million ten years ago and $15 million for a preK to 5 now?” he asked. “I can’t believe that costs are up that much. What was the difference in the model projected?” Ehler, who was not superintendent in 2002, was not sure, but would bring any information of that model to ATS&R and ICS Consulting for their analyses.

The idea of assistance funding is still very much an issue as well. “Something we have to look out for,” cautioned Greg Smith. “The state still funds 80 percent of our budget. The state says this is what we want. They may not graciously approve a remodel.” Ehler confirmed that the state will give no assistance to any R-P plans to remodel the facilities.

“Either option is going to costs us,” noted board chairwoman Angela Colbenson. “l’d like to see voters have an option A or B. There’s a lot of variables. We need to do it and do it well.”

The board went on to proceed with the hiring of David Drown Associates to perform a fiscal impact study on the R-P school district buildings. This will assist in joint capital financial planning between the city and the district, as well as allow a comparative analysis of tax and utility data for surrounding districts and municipalities compared to those in the district.

Mike Bubany, of David Drown Associates, also noted that the impact study would provide in-depth planning benchmarks, based on the comparative data, to establish reasonable costs for taxpayers. Decisions about projects would be made with these benchmarks in mind.

Lastly, a computer modeling program would allow for the input of numerous variables. This would assist the district in effectively scheduling, structuring, and planning for a variety of projects, including those in a collaborative fashion. The model would allow the district to see the impacts of variables immediately on various types of properties including residential, homestead, and businesses. Such variables would include things such as project size, year, financing term, revenue streams, growing or shrinking tax base, current debt going offline, and more.

Once the model is created, the district will hold a joint work session to test a variety of approaches to the project. Once consensus is developed through the process, findings will be finalized and guide how project financings will proceed in coming years.

“It’ll be a valuable tool in long-term planning,” noted Ehler. “We’ll have a better handle on the current tax impact and projected project impacts.”

The minimum cost of this analysis and model is $2,125 and should not exceed $2,250. The cities of Rushford Village and Peterson have been asked to participate as well, to provide a thorough look at the impact to the entire district. The workshop, with analysis details, is expected to be held within three months.

In other news, the district is the recipient of a Minnesota Cultural Grant in the amount of $6,995. The grant was used to complete the history of the school buildings at the elementary/high school facility, with Tammy Lindberg as facilitator. The long-range goal will of this study will be to get the 1906 and 1936 buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. The designation would allow the district to apply for future funding through the Minnesota Cultural Heritage Grant Program. With the report other grants may be sought, including potential assistance for roof work and tuck pointing to the buildings.

The district will be seeking bids for installing a security system for the main exterior doors at the elementary, middle, and high school facilities. The plan would encompass a camera and intercom setup, which would require visitors to be buzzed in by staff. The district is exploring the option of using individually programmable keyfobs to parents, but is unsure due to cost. Still, all on the board appeared excited at the security plan. “I’m thrilled to see it on the agenda,” enthused new board member Julie Koop.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, February 25, at 5:30pm, in the high school biology room. Please note the date change from the third to fourth Monday of the month, to accommodate the Presidents’ Day holiday. The public is encouraged to attend.

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