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Lake Park-Audubon has high hopes for federal stimulus money

If this works, members of the Lake Park-Audubon School Board will want to give President Obama a big fat kiss on the cheek for making federal stimulus money available.

The plan is for LP-A to tap into the new federal money to help build a new high school and new/renovated elementary school.

If its two grant applications are approved by the state Department of Education, the district will save nearly $12 million in interest payments over the life of school-construction bonds.

District voters still have to approve the bonds needed for the $20.3 million project, but district officials are hopeful that a referendum will be successful this year thanks to the federal money sweetening the pot.

The plan is familiar: district will spend $2.7 million to upgrade the (PK-6) elementary school in Audubon. That includes 7,000 square feet of new construction and 9,580 square feet of remodeled construction.

The new 105,104-square-foot high school for grades 7 to 12 would cost $17.4 million.

The project includes $1.1 million of conventional bonding for things like paved parking and roadways, athletic fields and building demolition.

If the district sees its full request approved by the state, and voters follow suit, the owner of a $100,000 residential homestead or lake home would see property taxes increase by $131 a year.

Property taxes on a $100,000 commercial/industrial property would increase $196 per year.

Taxes on a $300,00 agricultural homestead would increase $262 per year.

But first the district has to land the grants.

Superintendent Dale Hogie believes many of the criteria set by the state favor the district.

LP-A has applied for two different bonds:

- $1.7 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, which can be used for renovation. The money will go towards remodeling part of the elementary school.

To qualify for QZAB, a district must have at least 35 percent of its students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. LP-A's percentage is just over 40 percent.

QZAB also requires a 10 percent business match. Fortunately, businessman Loren Jetvig of Lake park has agreed to renew his offer to donate 53 acres of land for the new high school -- a gift whose value is expected to exceed $400,000.

Hogie pointed out in the QZAB application that LP-A's building plans have received a positive Review and Comment from the state on five different proposals.

Hogie believes the district is in a strong position to receive QZAB (the state has about $25 million in such funds to distribute.)

- And that puts the district in a better position to be granted its second, larger application for $17.3 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds, or QSCB.

QSCB bonds can be used for new construction, and the state has about $76 million to distribute -- to be spread as evenly as possible between the seven-county metro area and the rest of the state.

LP-A doesn't have to worry about competing with school districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They received separate federal bonding money, with Minneapolis receiving 21.7 million and St. Paul $161 million -- because they are in the top 100 poorest districts in the nation.

Both types of bonds provide federal tax credits in lieu of interest to lenders that purchase eligible bonds purchased by school districts.

To be eligible, a district must agree to meet a time table designed to get the stimulus money out into communities and working as quickly as possible.

That means a referendum date this year (LP-A will hold an election in October, if it qualifies for the bonds); a bond sale this year (they'll be sold in November) and construction groundbreaking in the current fiscal year. That's set for next May, with completion in December.

There is a QZAB eligibility preference that could help LP-A's case in landing new construction funding..

There are a few things going against LP-A's odds of landing the grants -- including, ironically, the fact that it doesn't have a high debt load.