$30 million question: Elementary school, security, improvements  sought in referendum

The Princeton School District’s $29.95 million referendum Tuesday, May 20, will be District 477’s third crack at trying to construct a new elementary school to replace the overcapacity K-2 South Elementary.

If the referendum is approved, the occupancy date in a new school would be September 2016.

The proposal is to build a K-2 school adjacent to North Elementary, a grades 3-5 school on the city’s north end, plus run an addition and remodeling project at the high school and make security improvements districtwide. The high school proposal is to add a two-station gym and to redo the kitchen and cafeteria and the industrial tech spaces.

This latest referendum, while having the common denominator of the other two failed building referendums in 2004 and 2007 of proposing a new elementary, has some marked differences in content and how the School Board and superintendent formulated it.

The 2004 referendum under Superintendent Mary Ann Straley sought $89.75 million to build a prekindergarten to second grade school, add onto and remodel North Elementary and build a new district swimming pool.

The 2007 referendum under Superintendent Mark Sleeper sought $44 million to build a new K-2 elementary and remodel and add onto North Elementary. It also had a question seeking $10 million more for building improvements, and a question seeking a $147 increase in the operating levy. The latter two questions could only pass if the $44 million question passed, which it didn’t.

Since the last two referendums were run, the district has made air quality improvements and completed maintenance work at the high school and North Elementary. The district also gave North Elementary a major classroom addition and remodeled it without a referendum. The addition eliminated the eight portable classrooms that the elementary had been using and improved the school’s entryway.

Questions were raised during the development of the latest referendum regarding whether the School Board should seek funding to renovate and add onto South Elementary rather than replace it altogether.

The school district  hired two consulting firms – Wold Architects & Engineers, and ICS – and formed a task force of citizen groups to look at all options for dealing with the district’s space problems at South Elementary and the high school.

The options committee, which looked at the elementary renovation and addition idea and other options, recommended the district build a new K-2 school. The board adopted the recommendation.

Wold estimated that the cost of remodeling and adding onto South Elementary to meet codes and get the needed space would be $21.8 million and the cost of new K-2  building would be $24.1 million. Just renovating South Elementary without adding on would cost nearly $9 million, according to Wold.

South Elementary’s core building was built in 1954 and later added onto. The consensus of the options committee and the School Board was that a remodeling and addition project at South Elementary would still leave it with original classrooms and some core spaces smaller than current state guidelines.

No design to look at

Voters won’t have a design to look at. Superintendent Julia Espe said that if the referendum passes, Wold will then begin the design work.

It isn’t decided whether a new K-2 building would go on the north or east sides of North Elementary, but the School Board has decided it would go on that property. The review and comment document that the district had to submit to the state for the referendum proposal states that the proposed new K-2 school would be 102,000 square feet. South Elemenary has 52,700 square feet and 33 classrooms.

The North Elementary site where the new K-2 school is proposed is about 52 acres.

Effect on taxpayers

Financial consultant Ehlers & Associates has calculated what the tax impact would be for all property classifications and assessed valuations in the district during the 20 years of bonding if the referendum passes. A residential homestead property valued at $100,000 would have to pay $77 per year, and a $200,000 property in the same class would pay $194.

The district would use wraparound financing in which it would pay only the interest on the bonding in the first nine years of the 20-year term. Then it would pay both principal and interest during the remaining 11 years.

The district will receive $3.97 million in state aid for the project if the referendum passes. None would be given the first year of the bonding, but the state would give $75,447 in each of the next eight years, and $305,000 per year in the final 11 years.

The purpose of that, explained Michelle Czech, district director of business services, is to keep the district’s property taxes at an even keel throughout the 20 years. Once the bonding goes into its 10th year, the district will have paid off old debt.

For more information on the tax impact and for frequently asked questions, visit the district’s website at www.princeton.k12.mn.us and click on referendum central on the left side of the page. Call 763-389-2422 or email questions to referendum@isd477.org for more information.

Espe was asked last week what she has most often been asked during presentations on the referendum. The No. 1 question: Why is the district not proposing the construction of a field house, Espe said.

A field house is an indoor sports facility that can also be used for other purposes. Espe said the board does not think that the voters are ready at this time to consider a project like that.

Espe added that if the referendum passes, Wold could offer a design for the new gym spaces so that the structure has the potential to be added onto later to make a field house. Many in Princeton have seen the field houses at Becker and Foley, Espe said.

Another prominent question has been what the district would do with South Elementary if the referendum passes, Espe said. Espe answered that the district would seek to sell the building. If the School Board did not find a suitable proposal, it could demolish South Elementary. One of the factors to weigh is the value of the land that South Elementary is on, which is next to the high school, Espe said.

“So it is a little more complicated” than it may appear, she added.

Espe has also been asked what the district would do if the May 20 referendum fails. She said the space problems are not going away, so the district would have to continue trying to solve those issues.

Additions were put on South Elementary in 1956, 1986 and 1993, and it has had portable classrooms since 2003. The portables are rented at more than $100,000 per year and are not energy efficient, according to the district.

The polling places

The district will be using six polling places, with some of them combining townships. The polling sites are:

• Historical society’s depot building, for voters in the city of Princeton. It is located at 10th Avenue and First Street.

• Greenbush Town Hall, 5445 120th Ave., west of Long Siding, for district voters in the townships of Greenbush, Bogus Brook, Milo, Princeton and Glendorado.

• Baldwin Town Hall, at 30239 128th St., for Baldwin voters.

• Blue Hill Town Hall, 15341 321st St., for  Blue Hill and Santiago Township voters.

• Wyanett Town Hall, 34894 Nacre St., east of Princeton along Highway 95, for voters in Dalbo and Wyanett Townships.

• Spencer Brook Town Hall, 6978 305 Ave. NW in Spencer Brook Township, for district voters in that township.

The voting hours at all polling stations will be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available to pick up at the district office if a person cannot be at the polling place on May 20.

  • brian farley

    and no mention of a storm shelter in the new school. Hello!