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Enrollment numbers spur school expansion

Expansion plan

Steadily increasing enrollment has pushed Menahga School toward another expansion project.

Superintendent Mary Klamm is projecting an additional 41 students this fall, for a total enrollment of 859 students. By the 2015-16 school year, enrollment projections are at 925 students.

"These are conservative numbers," she said. "As our numbers get bigger the growth we're seeing is not open enrollment."

The need for more classroom and lunchroom space is immediate.

"Right now we have two classes without a place to go this fall," Klamm said.

Menahga School District has been working with JP Structures Inc. to create concepts for additional classroom space along with expanding the multi-purpose room where students eat lunch, expanding kitchen/storage space and adding bathrooms.

At Monday night's school board meeting a concept for the project estimated at $1,767,284 was approved. Board members Jon Kangas and Al Peterson were opposed to this concept. They approved of a smaller project that included only the addition of four classrooms and not the expansion of the multi-purpose room/cafeteria.

The project will be entirely funded by the district, Klamm said, and it won't need to go to voters for approval.

"The district can levy up to $150 per student without going to voters," she said.

The next step for the school district is to go to the city of Menahga for approval of a permit or, most likely, a variance because the school is within the shoreland district.

Board members Durwin Tomperi and Curtis Hasbargen observed the lunchroom area one day and said it was at capacity about 80 percent of the time. They noted that some students took their lunch out into the hallway because of the limited seating.

"I think this would be the best investment for the future of Menahga," Hasbargen said.

Board member Jon Kangas was strongly opposed to the proposal that included an expansion of the multi-purpose room and kitchen area. The immediate need is for more classrooms, he said.

"There are other needs at the school," Kangas said.

Tomperi acknowledged the school has other needs as well and suggested the district might need to expand its footprint again in two to five years.

"We might need to go back to voters," he said.

Peterson was in favor of the project proposal that included just four additional classrooms because he worried there wasn't enough information about the financial impact. He also wanted more input from the public.

Ehlers, the district's financial planner, provided an amortization of debt service. The estimated tax impact for a $1.5 million lease levy purchase over 15 years was $3 per year for an $80,000 home, $5 per year for a $100,000 home and $6 per year for a $125,000 home.

Board member Ernest Huhta Jr. said the cafeteria and classrooms were both immediate needs and he was in favor of the project. Board member Brad Goehrig was also in favor of the project.

Tomperi said he was confident the district would find creative ways to figure out the financial needs of the school while working on the building space needs.

The school district is contacting the city of Menahga immediately for a permit or variance so the project can be started as soon as possible.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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