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LP-A lands big bucks for school

Voters in the Lake Park-Audubon School District are going to have a one-time opportunity to reel in at least $10 million in federal stimulus money to help build a new school.

That means the district could build a new 7-12 school and make major improvements to the PK-6 school, virtually interest-free.

Voters would have to vote yes on the $20.9 million schools project in a referendum on May 25.

The school board is expected to approve putting the measure on the ballot at a special meeting Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. at the school in Audubon.

If the board opts not to pursue it, or the building bond referendum fails, the stimulus funds will go elsewhere.

"I'm quite confident the board will move forward with it at the meeting," said Superintendent Dale Hogie. "We have to have voter approval prior to July 1, 2010. If not by then, the bonding authority goes to another Minnesota school district."

The LP-A project was selected by the Minnesota Department of Education, which administers these particular federal stimulus funds.

The LP-A school district has been awarded bonding authority for $17.3 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds, or QSCB, which can be used to pay interest on new construction projects.

It has also received bonding authority for $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 in Audubon.

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

If the referendum passes, the district will spend several million dollars 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.

And it will build a 105,104-square-foot high school for grades 7 to 12 in Lake Park.

"Our voters would vote on the project, providing the district authority to sell conventional bonds and the federal government would pay the interest on those bonds," Hogie explained.

It would be a 15-year- bond, rather than the 20-year bond rejected in the last referendum vote, but the annual cost to taxpayers would still be lower because of the interest-free status, Hogie said.

The project also includes about $2 million of conventional bonding to cover things like paved parking and roadways, athletic fields and building demolition.

That also covers construction costs being about 4 percent higher than when the grant application was submitted in May of last year, Hogie said. Interest on the conventional bonds is expected to cost about 4.5 percent annually.

The district is in the process of receiving updated information from its consulting firm, Ehlers and Associates, but according to figures provided in May, when the grant application was submitted:

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 property would increase $196 per year.

Bear in mind those figures from last year will be updated by Ehler's and Associates prior to the referendum vote, but they should give property owners a rough idea of what to expect.

If the referendum vote is successful, work will begin on the Audubon school project later this year and the new high school would open in the fall of 2012, Hogie said.