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So what's your idea? Lake Park/Audubon seeks feedback

The Lake Park-Audubon School Board hopes plenty of "no" voters will show up at three upcoming meetings in which the public will be asked to choose the best option for dealing with the district's aging buildings.

Each of the meetings is designed to provide different information on the 10 options outlined by Zerr Berg Architects.

The first meeting is July 23 at the elementary school north gym in Audubon. The second is July 30 in the same place, and the third is Aug. 6 at the high school theater in Lake Park. All start at 7 p.m. and are expected to last about 90 minutes.

Voters in Lake Park-Audubon have repeatedly shot down building bond referendums, and now the school board wants those voters to look at all the facts and decide the best course for the district.

To do nothing is to condemn the school district to what could be a slow death from loss of students (and the state aid that follows them) as they open-enroll to other districts -- and to be nickeled and dimed to death by repairs, says Superintendent Dale Hogie.

For example, the district is spending $60,000 on roof repairs this summer. Such major repairs will become more frequent as the buildings age, and the district doesn't have a huge pot of reserve funds to pay for them, he said.

"We've kind of hit the life expectancy for portions of our buildings," he said. "Extensive renovations are needed, and some areas are too costly to renovate."

If the cost of renovation exceeds 60 percent of the cost of new construction, the Minnesota Department of Education will veto the building project, Hogie said.

"Their philosophy is to spend a little more and get a new building."

Renovation and repairs get expensive quickly because of state requirements that if a district renovates more than 20 percent of a building's square footage, it must bring the entire structure up to code compliance for health and safety -- including ventilation, air flow and handicapped accessibility -- among other requirements, Hogie said.

The partially renovated building would also have to meet State Education Department requirements, including site size and classroom size, among other things, which could also be expensive.

The LP-A buildings are a mix of older and newer additions, and portions are not in compliance, having been grandfathered-in before the regulations were enacted.

"We're inviting people in (to the three meetings) to look at the various options," Hogie said. "Now, with all the information, what are your suggestions -- what would you like to see done? What option is more viable than the one previously proposed by the school board?"

The board had proposed a new high school in Lake Park and a combination of new construction and renovation at the elementary school in Audubon.

If the district continues to do nothing, he said, "our enrollment will gradually recede or diminish until we can't fund all the programs -- we don't have fund reserves to do that," he said.

At the school board meeting Monday, board member Rick Olson said some community members don't understand why the estimated cost of repairs increased greatly, while the estimated cost of new construction/renovation decreased from 2004 to the present.

Some believe the district's architectural firm is padding the numbers to make new construction/renovation look like the better option, he said.

The district's previous architectural firm, DLR Group, prepared the 2004 figures based on costs at that time, Hogie said. Since repairs often must be done when school is not in session, they have to be spread out over two or three summers, increasing their cost, he said. "The costs of material and labor are going up with inflation," he said. The estimates of the district's current consultant -- Zerr Berg, are "not inflated,' Hogie added. "They're just accounting for increased costs over time."

Adding to the mix is the fact that cost estimates by DLR Group for new construction were apparently based on Twin City costs -- which are "much higher than Red River Valley rates," Hogie said.

At any rate, the actual cost would be based on contractor bids, based on specifications set by the school board.

"There's a perception that our architect and construction manager are getting those dollars ... the cost is determined by the market (contractor bids) at the time," Hogie said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the date and time for the three meetings.

In other action, the school board:

n Approved a new program geared towards lowering the percentage of special education students at LP-A, which usually is around 13-15 percent of the student population, Hogie said.

Called Response to Intervention, the program targets kids in Kindergarten, first and second grades. Finding a successful intervention at that age can result in a student catching up to peers, and staying caught up, Hogie said.

"Interventions" can be peer tutors, alternative learning techniques, additional study periods, or other things, Hogie said.

The way the system now works in most schools, including LP-A, Hogie said, "kids might go through kindergarten and first grade before anyone realizes they have a learning disability and help is needed. If you find a technique that works for those students, they close the gap and learn on the same level as their peers."

Teachers are eager to start the new program, and four instructors who are working on their master's degrees are collaborating on the project as part of their coursework.

n Heard good news about three Lake Park-Audubon teams that went to a national FCCCA (Family, Community and Career Leaders of America) competition.

Eight LP-A students participated, and three of Minnesota's 23 national-qualifying teams were from LP-A.

Seventh graders Bryce Bartunek, Elijah Beaudine, and Beau Svobodny competed in the junior high division of Applied Technology and earned a Silver Award.

Lorin Ronken and Dylan Svobodny earned a Silver Award in the high school division of Applied Technology.

Brett Lage, Bryce Lunde, and Braeden Hogie earned a Gold Award in the senior high Chapter Showcase division with an average score of 98.7.

National competitors are judged by a panel of three judges on their project, knowledge, and presentation. They are awarded bronze, silver, or gold medals based on their level of accomplishment. The FCCLA advisor is Cheryl Hogie.

The board also approved advertising for gasoline and diesel fuel quotes, and for trash quotes. It accepted several resignations and agreed to advertise for their replacements.

Approved payment of $71,577 to Hoglund Bus and Truck Co. for a new 71-passenger bus, which was delivered June 28