Princeton school referendum passes

With the passage of the Princeton School District’s $29.95 million referendum May 20, the district’s first task will be to start the design stage of the facilities improvements that voters approved.

The voters in a 1,675 to 1,069 vote, approved the district’s proposal to build a K-2 school, add a two-station gymnasium at the high school as well as remodel and add onto the high school’s cafeteria and kitchen and industrial tech areas, plus improve the security features in district buildings.

Approximately two dozen people, including School Board members and school staff members, watched Superintendent Julia Espe in the board meeting room tally the election results after the polls closed the evening of May 20. Espe wrote the vote totals on a white board as they came in precinct by precinct. The results were all in shortly before 10 p.m. election night and the board confirmed them as correct when convening two days later to canvass the votes.

The emotional atmosphere of the people in the School Board meeting room rose up and down as the votes were reported election night. The first result to come in was from Spencer Brook Township, which had 55 yes and 85 no votes. A sound approaching a collective groan by the people in the room could be heard when they saw the first return in having a majority of no votes.

Then exclamations of joy came from those assembled when Espe posted the results for the city of Princeton: 457 yes to 176 no. The rest of the polling places after the Spencer Brook and city returns had a majority of yes votes with one exception: The Wyanett Township polling place, which also included the district’s Dalbo Township voters, voted 92 yes and 96 no. Greenbush Township came in with 312 yes to 265 no. Baldwin Township voted 568 yes to 341 no; and the absentee votes districtwide were 30 yes and eight no.

When Espe wrote the grand total, showing the referendum passing with 61 approval, loud cheers could be heard throughout the room. People were on their feet, clapping and looking toward Espe and her whiteboard with the vote results.

Espe responded: “I am so happy that our community saw the needs that our district have. This will benefit our children and community for many years to come.”

Espe had expressed worry in the weeks prior to the referendum that it might not pass. The proposal had some opposition, the number of 1,069 no votes bearing that out.

Work has just begun

Espe also stated after election results were posted, that the “work has just begun” in the district’s plans to improve its facilities.

Designing those improvements is the next phase, and specifications will be put together and requests for proposals will be sent to contractors, she said. An important step will be the gathering of input from school staff members and others on what they would like to see incorporated into the improvements, Espe said.

The School Board has determined that the new K-2 building (which is slated to open for school in the fall of 2016) will be located somewhere adjacent to North Elementary on the city’s north end, a few blocks west of the middle school. The board has yet to decide if the K-2 building will be constructed to the north or east of North Elementary.

Also planned will be a traffic study of the North Elementary and middle school area, Espe said. She noted Mike Nielson, consultant with the engineering firm WSB & Associates, would start the study if the referendum passed. The study will have to be done before this school year lets out to see the amount of traffic and its patterns in the North Elementary and middle school area.

Mille Lacs County, Princeton  and school officials a few years ago had already discussed how there might be improvements to consider for better traffic flow in that area. Seventh Avenue, which goes past the west side of North Elementary, is a Mille Lacs County state aid road.

Espe noted that to give input on what should be incorporated in the design of the planned new K-2 building, the district will assemble a core group of 25-30 people this summer consisting of teachers, administrators and some residents. Another core group will give input next fall for planning the high school improvements, she said.

“It’s really an internal process,” Espe said about planning for the construction. “I’ve been through this before with Wold (Architects and Engineers).” Espe was referring to her past years as a school administrator elsewhere before taking the superintendent job in Princeton.

Espe noted that for the high school improvements, the planners will consider how the newly designed industrial tech spaces might take into account an interest by school district, Princeton and Mille Lacs County officials in having technical college courses taught in Princeton.

Espe, in looking at the vote tally in the referendum, said she is happy with a 61 percent approval rate, saying that’s pretty good “in this day and age.” It is much better than if had passed with a 51 or 52 percent margin, she said.

Voters went to the polls not knowing what the design of the facilities will be like, and Espe was not able to give any particulars when asked about it last week. She said that even the answer to which direction the new elementary will be located from North Elementary won’t be known until sometime before February.

Of all the questions raised about the design of the planned facilities improvements, one of the parts with probably even fewer details than the new K-2 school is what exactly will done in improvements at the high school beyond saying there will be two-station gym space added and work done on the cafeteria, kitchen and industrial tech spaces.

It is a given now that there will be a new elementary building, but just what might happen when remodelling and adding onto spaces at the high school? Would the metal shed the industrial tech spaces are in be replaced or just added onto and where exactly will the new gym spaces sit? The voters will have to wait for such answers to emerge.

As Espe said, the “work has just begun.”