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Menahga School considers building improvements, referendum

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By Nick Longworth

The way things are looking, Menahga schools may need a little more room.

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The most recent Menahga School board meeting on Monday, July 21 saw all school board members present and was heavily attended by members of the community, including Mayor Pat Foss.

A main point of discussion was Menahga School District’s current enrollment, projected enrollment in the coming years and the building needs to accompany it.

The 2013-14 school year saw the Menahga School District educate 970 students in total (grades K-12). This enrollment total was up 46 students from the 924 that were enrolled the year before, and up 227 students from the 743 recorded a decade prior.

According to documents provided by district officials, projected enrollment totals are expected to increase by as much as 180 students – to a total population of 1,150 – by the 2020-21 school year.

These totals maintain that the district can expect to see a population growth of between 9.1 percent and 9.8 percent annually throughout the next half decade.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s gross square foot per student guidelines (provided by the district), Menahga is currently operating at 7,488 square feet under what is recommended by the state.

By the same measure, with the projected enrollment data being accurate, the 2016-17 school year will see the district fall to 26,428 square feet under recommendation. By 2020-21 that number will continue to rise to 50,378 square feet.

As a result – if the predicted population increases comes to fruition – current building conditions will make classroom sizes increase on average.

Classes now averaging 25 students in size could expect to see an average increase to nearly 30 students or more by 2016-2017. It is estimated that the average 5th grade classroom in 2016-17 will have 36 students.

That is, without some sort of change.

Specific building needs, the district says, would need to be met in order to successfully accommodate the projected student population growth.

“Our high school is full right now. We’ve kept piling kids in rooms, and now we’re simply out of room,” said Superintendent Mary Klamm at the meeting.

“Now this is our reality.”

At the meeting, Bob Ames from Vercon presented master plan concepts and preliminary budgeting for improvements that could be made to the school.

Among them include: Kitchen and food storage renovations (estimated cost between $480,000-$671,000), music and computer lab renovations ($118,530-184,380), Kindergarten classroom upgrades ($123,000-$191,100), Pre-K and Kindergarten classroom remodels ($246,000-$287,000), Special Education upgrades ($42,750-$61,750), office and physical education room upgrades ($18,450-$26,650), Media center and library upgrades ($177,000-$206,500), art and music room upgrades ($168,750-$243,750) and storage room upgrades ($13,500-$19,500).

The total cost for the project is estimated at $13,441,630, and that is without the option for a nearly $2 million upgrade to the gymnasium. In all, the projects could reach well over $15 million.

On paper, all of the improvements look like great ideas. But the money to make them happen has to come from somewhere.

The project would most likely require the district to request a bond referendum from its district families to help cover the cost.

According to a July 7 analysis of tax impact for potential bond issues provided by Gary Olsen from Ehlers & Associates, for a $6 million referendum, the annual taxation increase of a residential homestead valued at $50,000 is $24, a $150,000 home is $98 and a $300,000 home is $225.

If the district were to request a $15 million referendum, the same $50,000 would now be taxed $47, the $150,000 would be $200, and the $300,000 would be $458.

Of course there is also the issue of open enrollment within the district.

Open enrollment currently accounts for 107 active students in the district, all of which would benefit from the building renovations, but none of whose families would a proposed referendum’s extra taxes effect.

In 2012, Menahga added 10,500 square feet of space, including a lunch/multi-purpose room expansion and the addition of four new elementary classrooms, kitchen and physical education storage and additional bathrooms. The total cost of the project was $1,838,164.

In the year prior, 3,632 square feet was added as an attempt to address American Disability Act issues, and to alleviate physical education space needs. The district added a weight room and girls’ and boys’ locker rooms, using $475,000 in lease levy funds. The existing agricultural shop was also remodeled into a multi-purpose room, using $300,000 in Disabled Access Levy.

To pay for both these projects, the district financed $1.5 million with lease levy, and the rest coming from the district’s operating capital account reserves in the general fund or unassigned general fund reserves. Districts are allowed to levy for projects, but are capped.

The combination of the two projects used up almost all of the district’s levy authority. They are not able to borrow any more money using this funding stream.

Funding aside for only a moment, issues within the building remain, Klamm said.

“At the present time we do not have the capacity to meet the space needs of our students. If we don’t act now to alleviate our overwhelming space needs, our class sizes will increase,” Klamm said.

“I believe the only way we will be able to address the overwhelming needs will be to pass a bond referendum.”

A World’s Best Workforce meeting will be July 31 to work with a consultant in order to help develop a survey not necessarily for the referendum itself, but also to ask the community if “officials are meeting the mission of the district.” Klamm will be presenting referendum information and asking for community input on the plan while also seeking suggestions on how to best communicate with members of the community. 

The school board will then make a decision at the August board meeting to determine if the district will move forward with a November bond referendum.

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Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364
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