With the May 14 referendum approaching, I would like to respond to questions I have heard in my conversations with our Frazee-Vergas District residents. I hope to provide as much information as I can so voters can make an informed decision.

Q: Why did the district decide to renovate instead of building a new school?

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A: Assessments were conducted on the quality of our buildings, according to standards provided by the Minnesota Department of Education. Any construction or renovation must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education; per MDE guidelines renovations must cost at least 60% of what a new building would cost in order to reach the tipping point of approving a new facility versus renovation.

This project does not fall within this realm. Another factor to consider is the disruption to students during construction. Building a new facility would mean students would be displaced for a minimum of two years while existing buildings are demolished and new buildings are constructed.

Q: How does the May 2019 plan address safety and security issues?

A: One of the three areas addressed by this referendum is safety improvements to our campus. Our parking lots and pick-up/drop-off areas have been a concern for students, staff and our community at large. Part of these improvements is relocating the football/track facility to make room for a new student and staff parking lot and parent pick-up/drop-off areas at the high school in coordination with MNDoT work on Highway 87.

The elementary school will also have a new parent pick-up/drop-off parking lot and the existing parking lot will be redesigned for a bus loop, allowing for safer travels for the students.

We are also redesigning facility entrances at both schools so that visitors are required to check in at the front office before entering the building. The current layout requires visitors to walk through the building to check in, which is a security gap that needs to be addressed.

Q: Why are we building a new football/track facility?

A: If our current football/track facility remained at its location there would be numerous needs for improvements in order to be safe for our athletes and to be code compliant. According to a third-party assessment, the facility needs over $1 million to be invested into the replacement of the track, location of goal posts, obsolete lights, concession stand and bathrooms code compliance and ADA compliance.

In addition, the existing football/track facility needs to be moved to a new location on campus to make room at the high school for a new student and staff parking lot along with parent pick-up/drop-off areas away from Highway 87; this relocation serves our safety and security goals.

Q: Why is the district looking to make a large investment into student activity programs?

Activity areas, such as the auditorium and the gymnasium, are part of our students' educational experience. Activity spaces are just as important as classroom space, as we believe learning goes beyond classrooms. Activities are important to keep students engaged and the facilities are intended to serve not only our students but our community.

Q: How does changing the facilities enhance education?

A: Creating appropriate educational spaces encourages student engagement. For instance, our robotics team has been growing and performing well in competitions. They currently share space with shop students, a temporary fix that can be limiting to the program's growth in the long run.

The May 2019 plan also enhances space for early childhood education programming and STEAM education in the elementary school, while also creating a student commons area in the high school, a place where students can gather, collaborate and study.

Q: How much will this referendum cost?

A: The total cost of the project is $25.6 million. Every taxpayer's situation is different. A residence with an estimated market value of $125,000 would see a monthly increase of $19 if the proposed plan passes. I would urge residents to use our tax calculator at FrazeeVergasForward.com for information, or contact our financial advisor Ehlers at 800-552-1171.

Q: When and where do I vote?

A: The election will take place Tuesday, May 14 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling locations are the Frazee Event Center (for Becker County residents) or the Vergas Event Center (for Otter Tail County residents). Because this is a special election, the district chose the locations not only to provide access in both counties but also in an effort to keep costs down. Absentee and early voting are also currently available at the Becker County Auditor/Treasurer's office.

Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself and allowing me to be a part of this process. The district cannot tell you how to vote for this election, but our goal has been to provide our community with clear information on the project, while providing ample opportunities for community members to be involved.

Our No. 1 priority is the success of our students, our school, and our community. We feel that this project will support this vision well into the future. A strong community needs a strong school. We are so proud of our students, and we are so thankful for the opportunity given to us to be a part in raising the leaders of tomorrow.

If I have not answered your questions here, or if you have any comments for me, please reach out to me. Questions and comments can be submitted on the District's referendum website www.frazeevergasforward.com, or by contacting me directly at tkarger@frazee.k12.mn.us or 218.334.3181 Ext. 5601. - Frazee-Vergas Schools Superintendent Terry Karger