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Rushford-Peterson narrows options for future

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Nov 22nd, 2013
Posted in Rushford Education

The Future Facilities Task Force has spent weeks working out the details of potential options for the future of the district’s aging facilities. After a failed referendum last December, the district called for the task force to pour over the suggested options, keeping in mind referendum results and local opinion. Ten options were ultimately put forth by architectural firm ATS&R, following the presentation of a Comprehensive Educational Analysis and Facility Engineering Analysis, provided as a joint effort between ATS&R and ICS Consulting, last February. The analysis sought to provide a thorough picture of the district’s needs as the task force moved forward.

Superintendent Chuck Ehler noted last January that several key items to the defeat of the results were evident to him. As written, they included:

•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 versus 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.

Keeping these in mind, the facilities task force worked through the 10 options, eventually whittling them down to just four. “I recommend you give us a sense of direction,” said Ehler. “What would you like us to do?”

The front runner, garnering 68 votes from the task force, was Option 7. That plan includes the construction of a new early childhood through grade 12 school on the property adjacent to the current high school football field. While the plan would highlight energy efficiency and the culmination of “a truly 21st century school,” it ultimately abandons both the current Rushford and Peterson school facilities. The estimated price tag could ring in at $34.5 million, with estimated state debt equalization payment near $8 million.

Option 10 came in with 27 votes as a second potential solution. It calls for the construction of a new EC-3 school and a new 7-12 school on the property adjacent to the current athletic facility and a conversion of the Peterson facility into a 4-6 middle school. The option also includes abandoning current Rushford facilities. According the task force, the positives for the option include both the Peterson facility remaining open and the continued segregation of the middle school grades. Negatives were listed as increased transportation costs, higher operating costs for three facilities, and the abandonment of the Rushford facility, which many in the community are opposed to. The estimated price tag would be in the $34-35.5 million range, prior to any debt equalization from the state.

The other two viable options, according to the task force, are Option 2 and Option 8. The first Option 2, would include construction of additions onto both Rushford and Peterson facilities. At $18-26 million, the group believes this option would remain within budget parameters, while keeping Peterson open. However, disruptions during construction and the limit of site size are both concerns, as well as the age of the facilities.

The second, Option 8, rings in at an estimated $25.5-31.5 million. It calls for the acquisition of property adjacent to the current Rushford facility for construction, moving all grades to the Rushford site, and the closing of the Peterson school. While this option costs less than a new facility, will centralize all schools to a single site, and will utilize the Rushford facility, disruptions during construction, the closing of the Peterson site, and displacement of families adjacent to the school are all obstacles. In either of those options, there is no debt equalization from the state unless extensive remodeling is done.

“What’s the timeframe for reoccupying the building?” asked board member Julie Koop. “Having kids in mobile classrooms? I’m concerned that it would hurt them in that learning environment.”

The potential acquisition of seven homes to the east of the school, adjacent to Rush Creek, might also prove a hindrance, although Superintendent Ehler still sees it as a viable option. A letter to the property owners was drafted and Ehler delivered them. “We had an open discussion on it. I commend them for allowing us to consider it, for their willingness for the district to look at it.”

Board member John Linder also noted that the property owners would have the option to sell, rather than a forceful taking. “There’s not as much opposition as you might think,” he added. “We need a long-term solution. We need to do something. New is nice, but we’ll be paying more for it. As for the committee recommendation, we’ll have to consider it. Ultimately, it comes down to us. I think we need to keep an open mind and look beyond what the committee did.”

“I’m concerned that this is not a cross-section of the community,” Linder continued. “The options became apparent quickly for the direction it was going. I don’t feel we looked at all the options as thoroughly as we could. It’s disappointing. I would have liked to see a broader perspective.”

“Repairing of the facilities doesn’t seem a viable solution for the long term. It doesn’t bode well for the future. But, that’s a lot of money, folks. It pushes the limit of what could be sustained.”

“It’s not much of a cross-section,” agreed board member Valerie Howe, “But how do we encourage people to come? It’s open.”

Board Chair Angela Colbenson suggested the planning continue to look at ways to drop costs. “We, as a board, need to roll up our sleeves and try to bring down that number, somehow get creative. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

“The tax impact and state aid still have the biggest influence,” added Ehler. “We need to keep moving forward.”

Dean Beeninga, of ATS&R, is already working on cost saving opportunities for the options and is expected to bring back recommendations for discussion at the next meeting. The board also thought it prudent to have financial planning consultants present as well. The next board meeting is Monday, December 16, at 5 p.m. in the high school biology room. Please note the earlier time, which is to accommodate the presentation of the 2012-2013 audit from Kim Hillberg of Clifton, Larson, Allen.

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