School buildings: New or remodel?
About 80 community members were present for a public meeting on the school district's facility and space needs that was held Tuesday night at Detroit Lakes High School.
About 80 community members were present for a public meeting on the school district’s facility and space needs that was held Tuesday night at Detroit Lakes High School.
“We’re very pleased,” said Superintendent Doug Froke of the turnout, adding that he hopes the attendance was an indication that there might be “some momentum” building in support of a new building bond referendum.
That support certainly seemed to be in evidence when City Council member Madalyn Sukke, who was sitting in the audience, drew widespread applause as she stated, “We need to take a stand and vote to educate our children the best way we can.”
Sukke also noted that she felt the reason why the district’s $59 million bond referendum failed last November “was because of the location (of the proposed elementary school), not the money,” and that the focus needs to be on putting together the best possible plan for the district’s needs rather than on how much it would cost.
Sukke was voicing her concern about a couple of the questions that the school board posed for those in attendance at the meeting, who were asked to respond via an electronic “clicker” in order to determine how much support there was for the three different building options on the table.
Two of the questions the audience was asked were, “Do you believe the district can pass a referendum at the $60 million level,” and “Do you believe the district can pass a referendum at the $75 million level?”
“The difference between $60 and $75 million is miniscule - a drop in the bucket - when you consider how long these buildings will be here,” Sukke said.
School board member Dr. Tom Seaworth also pointed out that the school board had been “good stewards” of the taxpayers’ money over the years.
“Year after year after year we have lowered your taxes,” he said, noting that now, the board needs the support of those same taxpayers in order to provide for its students’ growing needs.
The overall response to both of the aforementioned questions was positive, however, as the electronic survey showed that a whopping 85 percent of those present felt the district would support a $60 million referendum, and 56 percent said they felt a $75 million referendum could be supported.
The rest of the questions posed were intended to help narrow the list of three potential building options that came out of a similar meeting held in September.
Those options included additions and renovations at all current school facilities (tentative price tag, $50 million); building an entirely new high school on a 40-acre site owned by the district on Tower Road (tentative price tag, $75 million); or building an addition to the current high school to move the middle school students over to that campus (tentative price tag, $60 million).
Another possibility was brought up by DL School Board Chair Ladd Lyngaas during the meeting, however: The option of constructing an entirely new building on the 39-acre high school campus, to accommodate grades 9-12, and renovating the existing building as a middle school, separate from the high school but at the same location.
Though this option had not been as thoroughly explored as the others, Lyngaas said the anticipated cost would most likely fall somewhere in between the $60 million projected for the middle school addition and the $75 million for an entirely new building on the Tower Road property.
“It would be cheaper to build the same building here (on the existing high school campus) than it would out on Tower Road,” Lyngaas explained, due to the fact that much of the infrastructure would already be in place.
The other questions asked of the audience during the “point and click” portion of the discussion showed a marked preference for building a new high school on the existing campus rather than out on Tower Road (by a 68-to-32 percent margin).
The group also seemed to be in favor of building a new high school rather than an addition onto the existing facility (only 8 percent were in favor of that option). They were pretty evenly split on whether they felt the building should be connected to the middle school by a tunnel or corridor, or entirely separate (42 to 49 percent, respectively).
When asked why the district had purchased the Tower Road property even after last fall’s referendum failed, Lyngaas said the board felt it would be a good investment even if they never built on the site, because if they decided to sell it in the future for business development (the property is located in the city’s industrial park), the land would most likely be worth far more than they paid for it.
Lyngaas also noted that the board would be hosting another meeting in November to continue moving the process forward toward another public vote. A tentative date of May 12 has been set for the proposed referendum - whatever that final proposal will look like.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes .