School to seek approval of $26.3 million building bond

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Levy request to be on August 14 ballot

With a unanimous vote Monday night, the District 777 Board of Education approved going to the voters Aug. 14 for a $26.3 million building bond levy.

Key features of the proposed project include construction of new classrooms at the Northside Elementary School to house a centralize day care and pre-kindergarten program, the construction of a new performing arts center, and renovating the Senior High School to meet 21st Century collaborative education design needs.

Another key aspect of the proposed facilities is that they would give Benson Public Schools the ability to compete with neighboring school districts for students, Supt. Dennis Laumeyer said. Currently, Benson loses kids to surrounding school districts with the condition of the school’s aged facilities among the reasons for students leaving.

Benson’s business and manufacturing community had urged the school district to come up with a plan that would enhance the look and quality of its facilities. They told the school board that it was hard to recruit families to Benson because of the worn look of its buildings.

Parents don’t go sit in a classroom to judge the quality of a school, rather they drive by it seeing how it looks, the school board was told.

“We wanted to propose a project that would help the community to grow,” Laumeyer said in a conversation with the Monitor-News last week.

The proposal has to go to the Minnesota Department of Education for review and approval by May 15. It will take 60 to 90 days for the state to complete the review.

The plans take away 111,000 square feet of space and replace it with 54,000 square feet of new space. The reduction of 57,000 square feet is possible because of declining enrollment, Laumeyer said.

The proposed project comes with the input and recommendation of three citizen groups made up of 45 volunteers representing farmers/landowners, district businesses and community members, and school staff members. The three groups met multiple times starting in January as they studied the condition of the school district’s buildings, the needs of its programs, the needs of the community and the future direction of educational facilities.

A couple weeks ago, the three committees were combined into one group of about 20 with representatives of each working on a plan to present to the school board and District 777 voters.

As they studied a building project, the committees focused on the following:

1) Eliminating high maintenance spaces that are an unnecessary drain on school finances and resources.

2) Promoting the efficient use of school facilities. Currently, the swimming pool area and Junior High Auditorium are costly spaces that are not used. The pool is no longer used because its high cost of maintenance and low public use. A year ago, a small section of the ceiling in the 1928 auditorium fell into the balcony seating area. The building hasn’t been used since as the school board has studied options for its future.

3) Meeting the growing needs of the community for child care and pre-school space. In 2014, there were four children involved with the school district’s Discovery Kids program, Laumeyer said. Today, there are over 150 children in the Discovery Kids and child care programs. There were 15 infants at the school child care program Monday.

The addition of child care and expansion of Discovery Kids has provided an economic development boost to the community through providing 22 new jobs. Further, with parents now able to find child care for infants, toddlers and their pre-school kids, they are able to stay in the local workforce, Laumeyer said.

4) Expanding career and technical education spaces.

5) Enhancing activity spaces.

6) Improving safety and security at Benson Public Schools.

Members of the District 777 Board of Education are Chair Chad Payne, Bill McGeary, Gary Williams, Mary K.W. Langan, Paul Carruth, Tammy Gunlogson and Jodi DeJong-Hughes.

The plans for the new facilities were presented by architect Paul Youngquist of Architects Rego + Youngquist of St. Louis Park.

Jeff Seeley of Ehlers, a Roseville public finance advising company, presented information on the financing of the project and its financial impact on real estate taxpayers in District 777....

 

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