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Menahga School proposes $8.5 million project

Menahga citizens and property owners will see $8,545,445 on a referendum ballot this fall for the proposed school expansion project.

After a lengthy discussion the buildings and grounds committee had Monday, the school board adopted a resolution Monday night to intend to issue a general obligation building bond for approximately $8.5 million.

The referendum will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3. The board said necessary changes can still be made before the election date.

"We can still pull back if we think we're at a point where we need to change something," said Chairman Durwin Tomperi.

The tax impact the project will have on property owners will vary depending on the market value, size and type of property.

Financial advisors will have an average dollar amount property owners would see on their tax statements ready by the end of this week.

Gary Olsen of Ehlers & Associates presented two options to the buildings and grounds committee in terms of debt length.

A 20-year bond will have a slightly lower interest rate but a higher tax impact. The second option is a 24-year bond that will somewhat decrease the tax impact.

The buildings and grounds committee has eliminated a storage unit from the plan. A spacious storage unit has instead been divided to accommodate a classroom in addition to a storage unit.

The committee decided the basement can still be used for storage. Eliminating one storage unit and moving the classroom to the bigger unit will save on square footage.

The plan still includes a three-station gymnasium, a commons room to be used for public gatherings and staff conferences and a total of five additional classrooms.

"After months of fine tuning ... we've got an idea of where we want to go with this," Tomperi said.

The current gymnasium holds up to 600 people, which is well below the number of visitors who attend the annual elementary Christmas program.

Additionally, the gym doesn't allow for regional sports tournaments. The new gym would accomodate up to 1,000 visitors.

"And those tournaments do bring a lot of money to our community," board member Jody Bjornson said.

The new plan calls for moving two high school science classrooms from the elementary to the high school, which will give the elementary three extra classrooms.

In 2000, the Menahga School Board held a referendum election for a building expansion project that the public didn't support.

Superintendent Jerry Nesland said this year is different. Enrollment numbers continue to increase and the shortage of space is more apparent now than ever.

Stimulus opportunities

Two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act opportunities are available for the Menahga district through the Minnesota Department of Education, Olsen said.

The first is the Qualified Zones Academy Bond (QZAB), which gets rid of the interest on a building bond, but the maximum length of the bond must be 16 years.

Also under QZAB's requirements, the district must have at least 35 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch. High school principal Mary Klamm said that's not a problem in Menahga.

QZAB also requires the district to collect 10 percent of the bond in donations from the community.

QZAB could be applied to a portion of the bond if the district is able to raise 10 percent of that portion from community donations.

The second stimulus option is the Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB), which also calls for a 16-year term. It allows the state to receive allocations the school district would ordinarily pay on the debt.

Olsen added there are other rules and regulations such as the type of contractors and subcontractors the district would have to work with.

The applications for the two stimulus package opportunities, along with the review and comments proposal to the Minnesota Department of Education, are due by next Tuesday.

The board decided to apply for the programs keeping in mind that withdrawing is an option if there are too many strings attached.

The board expects to receive a response from MDE by September.