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Public hearing dates to be announced for Menahga November referendum

Architect Leo Grobe said the project is simple and the activities center addition would keep the existing building's character. (Submitted photo)

It's typical for public hearings to take place about three weeks before a referendum election date.

But Steve Bruer told the Menahga School Board Tuesday the sooner the school explains the reason for proposing an $8.5 million building project, the better.

"Some people don't understand what it's all about," he said at a special meeting the school board held this week, adding that negative comments and inaccurate information are being said on the streets of Menahga.

Dorothy Ollanketo of the Civic & Commerce also attended the meeting and said seniors who don't have a direct connection with the school may not vote in favor of the project.

"The seniors are concerned about taxes," she said.

The district's financial advisors addressed the tax impact of the project as well as possible stimulus funding that would eliminate interest payments.

The project could either be paid off in 25 or 15 years depending on the bond issued.

The school district has applied for the Qualified School Construction Bond, a federal stimulus program that's awarded by the Minnesota Department of Education.

MDE gives preference to preferred maintenance, Carolyn Drude of Ehlers and Associates said. Menahga is now sixth in line for available stimulus funding in 2010.

The only QSCB requirement is the bond must be paid off in 15 years, she added. Annual tax payments would be higher than if the school went with a conventional bond, but the debt would be paid off sooner.

The second financing option is a 25-year bond with an estimated 5 percent interest rate.

The interest rate could end up lower than 5 percent, but it's always good to leave a little cushion, said Gary Olsen of Ehlers.

Because of the existing debt the district is currently carrying, taxes would be low until 2021 so that the combined payments are level throughout the years.

"People tend to remember when their taxes go up and they don't remember when they go down," Olsen said. "That's why we try to keep it relatively stable."

The tax impact varies depending on the type of property.

Drude pointed out that a $100,000 market value for a homestead residential would be taxed about $134 per year under the conventional bond and $145 with the QSCB.

The board also discussed the need for building due to anticipated student population growth.

Enrollment went up 20 this year and it's estimated to grow at that rate every year for the next five years, Superintendent Mary Klamm said.

"We have nowhere to go with our students," she said.

The locker room basement location violates the American Disabilities Act, a problem that must be addressed one way or another, Klamm added.

The new building would include a three-station gym, dressing rooms, a multipurpose wrestling room, a commons room, five additional classrooms and extra storage space.

"This building is going to be used by the community as well as the school," architect Leo Grobe said.

Public hearings will likely take place in October but the board will discuss holding them sooner at their regular meeting Monday.

Stephen Halonen, JP Structures construction manager for the project, said if the referendum passes, construction would start in the spring of 2010. The building would be ready for the 2011-12 school year.