COMMENTARY: Park Rapids Area Schools consider a November referendum
The school superintendent urges community members to participate in upcoming surveys about the district's facility needs.
There are so many wonderful things about the Park Rapids area that contribute to the quality of
life that we enjoy here. Itasca State Park is a gem along with our scenic woods and lakes. The shopping along Main Street in downtown is one-of-a-kind, and the way our residents support one another is encouraging.
These last few months have been challenging for all of us, but we have good reason to be optimistic about the future. Park Rapids is growing as more people are discovering it’s a great place to live and raise a family. You can see that in our school enrollment, which is up 6 percent from a decade ago and is projected to increase by an additional 10 percent in less than 10 years.
At Park Rapids Area Schools, our teachers and staff are striving to provide all the support and
services our students need to succeed in life after graduation. We want to provide a healthy, safe and modern learning environment. Our children deserve nothing less.
This is why the school board is exploring the possibility of asking Park Rapids Area voters to consider a new investment in our school buildings in November. Here’s why the timing may be right to move forward with such a plan.
First, the design and age of our buildings is restricting our ability to provide a quality education. Classroom instruction has changed dramatically since our facilities were constructed – some more than 50 years ago. As a result, some of our spaces are undersized for collaborative learning and lack other features and equipment that support today’s curriculum.
Additionally, there are critical physical challenges within our school buildings that must be addressed, including safety concerns and infrastructure in need of major repairs.
There are other sound reasons for investing in our schools now. Currently, construction costs are favorable, and low interest rates will provide some financial flexibility to manage a new investment responsibly.
Further, the district is in solid financial standing. The district has diligently watched interest rates and twice refinanced the debt used to build the Century School – creating a taxpayer savings of $4.2 million over the life of the bond. The remaining bond payments for the Century School
referendum will be paid off in 2025.
We recognize that a new investment would have an impact on local taxes, which is why we need to make sure that any new projects deliver optimal value and reflect the priorities of our communities. In fact, the Park Rapids area community has already played a crucial role over the last year as the district evaluated and discussed the condition of our school buildings.
We held 19 listening sessions with staff, students and residents to help evaluate our schools, collect new ideas and prioritize what work needs to be done first. A team of independent experts also conducted a series of assessments of our buildings.
Since then, we have produced a series of videos for the community to help explain the current state of our schools and where the planning process stands. You will find the entire series on the home page at PRoject309.org. There, you can contact the district through the "Connect" page to share your ideas and questions.
To be clear, nothing is final yet. Before we take action, we want to hear from you. I encourage you to participate in our online survey this month by visiting PRoject309.org. Your feedback will be critical as we consider options for moving forward with a plan. And you can always reach me directly at 218-237-6501 or firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I am grateful for your ongoing commitment to Park Rapids Area Schools.