LP-A wants new school bond vote
A new high school for grades 7-12 in Lake Park, and a renovated and expanded elementary school in Audubon -- that's the latest proposal the Lake Park-Audubon School Board is sending to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval.
LP-A Superintendent Dale Hogie presented the board with a proposal at its Monday night meeting that included $2.6 million in projected costs for renovations and new construction at the elementary building in Audubon, and another $16.3 million for a new high school in Lake Park. In addition, he presented them with a list of $3.2 million in possible upgrades such as a new track and football complex, landscaping and trees for the high school, a full power generator for the Audubon site (instead of an emergency generator only) and paved parking lots for both sites.
After considerable discussion, the board approved a revised construction plan with a total projected cost of $20,143,272, which included a $16.3 million new building for grades 7-12 at Lake Park, $2.6 million in renovations and new construction at the Audubon elementary building, and slightly over $1 million in upgrades, including paved parking lots for both sites as well as a new football field with lighting and new trees/landscaping for the high school.
This would allow the district to ask for a bond referendum of roughly $19.5 million in November -- but first, they would need to get the state's approval. And as several board members pointed out Monday night, there's no guarantee of that this time.
The plan will now be submitted to school facilities specialist John Ryberg of the Minnesota Department of Education for review and comment.
"This is a substantial change from what Mr. Ryberg has indicated he wants (to see)," Hogie said. "I'm not sure it will come back with a positive review."
If the plan is approved by Ryberg, it will once again be put to the vote in the Nov. 4 general election. If Ryberg does not approve it, "Then we'll know where we sit," said board member Rick Ellsworth.
Though the decision to approve the plan was unanimous, that agreement did not come about without some earlier dissension.
Board member Lori Bartunek asked if there was a way that the referendum question could be split into two parts, with one question specifically addressing the renovations to the Audubon elementary building, and the other addressing the high school.
If they managed to get a "yes" vote on only one of the questions, then at least they would have "a little bit of success," she noted.
Both Ellsworth and Board Chair Vicky Grondahl noted that Ryberg had indicated there would be little chance of getting their proposal approved unless both sites were addressed -- and as Hogie pointed out, with a split question, there would always be the possibility that only one site would get the needed improvements.
Board member Jeff Swetland asked if there was a possibility that they might consider a referendum that would ask for just the Audubon site improvements now, and five years down the road -- i.e., once the improvements at Audubon had been paid for -- they would move ahead with plans for the new high school.
"Is it possible?" he asked.
"No," Ellsworth said bluntly. "You run that by the state and they'll say, 'Are you out of your mind?'"
"I don't know how you would get any bidders for a project that's not going to be done for five years," Hogie pointed out.
Furthermore, he added, by delaying construction at Lake Park, the district would be continuing "to spend money on expensive repairs that you don't have in the budget right now."
Hogie also noted that he was "a little taken aback" by some of the board members' apparent shift in position on this issue.
Ellsworth agreed, noting that he feels "the focus has shifted from doing what's right for the kids to doing (what the voters will approve)...There's no way we can please all the taxpayers in this district -- because that would be to do nothing, and we can't do that."
Grondahl said that she feels "we have done the best job possible to look at ways to lower the costs and still address our most significant needs."