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Menahga School looking to expand due to growth

Bob White has been teaching physical education in Menahga for more than 30 years.

He has seen the growth in class sizes and the tightness of space Menahga School continues to experience - to the point that he took students around the halls for an exercise last year.

"When you have 40 kids at a time in a small area, you're limited to what you can do," he said.

Projected enrollment growth is the main reason the Menahga School Board is proposing an $8.5 million building expansion project.

The board held its first public hearing Monday at Menahga School where about 50 people attended.

"At 743 students, we're at capacity," Superintendent Mary Klamm said.

Growth has been steady in Menahga for several years, she added, which brings in money to the district each year.

The most anticipated growth for the next five years comes from elementary projections and birth rates, she said.

As she showed photos of crowded gym classes, tight storage spaces, closets that have been converted to offices, she said the district is expected to gain 20 students per year.

Additional reasons for expansion include the need for a space where the community can hold events and for Community Education classes to take place, Klamm said.

The design plan features an activity center that includes a commons room, a three-station gymnasium, weight training room and locker rooms.

The center would be available to the public without having to open the entire school building because it would be in its own wing on the east side, architect Leo Grobe said.

The three-station gymnasium would include a walking track that's often requested by many communities, he added. It would also hold up to 1,600 people.

Board members agree that the capacity of the proposed gymnasium would give Menahga the opportunity to host sports tournaments and allow for more seating during annual events like the Christmas concert and graduation.

Tax impact

By voting time on Nov. 3, the school board will have more information on the Qualified School Construction Bonds program, which offers the opportunity to purchase a 15-year bond with no interest.

The $75 million allocation that the state received was attractive for many school districts, which is why it received applications totaling $250 million, said financial advisor Carolyn Drude.

Menahga is fourth on a waiting list for allocations in 2010. The district won't know if it will be moved up or not until it gets closer to voting time.

Klamm said some other districts have decided not to continue with their building projects, which is why Menahga was recently moved up from sixth on the list to fourth.

Other districts' referendums may not pass, which would also move Menahga up on the list.

Drude explained to the public Monday the tax impact for a standard 25-year bond and the 15-year QSCB, which is part of the federal stimulus package.

According to Ehlers and Associates estimates, for a homestead residential valued at $80,000 by the county, the annual tax increase for the 25-year bond would be about $107. For the QSCB bond, it would be around $116.

It doesn't matter which county residents live in, the tax increase for this building project is the same across the board, whether it's a Wadena, Hubbard or Becker County property, Drude said.

Some properties may be eligible for property tax refunds up to $2,310 for homeowners and $1,490 for renters. To determine eligibility, residents are asked to fill out the state tax form M1-PR.

Those who would like to determine the amount of tax they're obligated to pay because of this project, may contact Ehlers and Associates at 1-800-552-1171 and ask to speak to an education team member. However, residents are asked to contact their county for a market value on their home to present to Ehlers for calculating the tax impact.

Stephen Halonen of JP Structures, who has been working on the budget for the project, said this could be the best time to bid for the project because of current economic doldrums.

February and March are generally the best time to bid any year, but next year, interest rates are expected to be even lower, he said.

"The construction industry is hurting right now," Hallonen said.

The next public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Menahga School.