COMMENTARY: Referendum plan would create safer spaces for all Panther students

Visit for details about the Nov. 3 school bonding referendum.

Lance Bagstad
Lance Bagstad

Fall is upon us in the Park Rapids Area, and the foliage of our beautiful area is quickly changing to hues of bright orange, red and yellow. Students and teachers are back in full swing, and our school district has adapted well to the difficulties brought on by COVID-19. Together, we are working to ensure that all Panther students receive a high-quality education in a healthy and safe environment.

Just this week, we moved to a hybrid learning model for grades 7-12 due to the recent surge of COVID cases in Hubbard County. This means our 7-12th graders will be in school part time and learning online the rest of the week. We plan to reevaluate the situation in the coming weeks, but I want to assure everyone that we are prepared to respond swiftly to protect our students if the virus poses new challenges.

This year, the return of fall also means election season, so I thought it would be a good time to review the $58.2 million school bond referendum on the ballot. As a local resident, you play a critical role in this decision that will deeply affect the future of our schools.

The referendum is presented in two ballot questions. Question 1 seeks $54.5 million to make extensive improvements at the high school and Century School. Question 2 seeks $3.7 million for new tennis courts at Century School and a new bus garage on district-owned property.

If approved, the referendum plan would touch every aspect of our campus. It would provide additions at the high school and Century School to support our growing student enrollment. It would expand career and technical training programs to better prepare our 7-12 graders for life after graduation. The plan would also effectively align grades and bring our buildings up to modern standards for education, health, safety and security.


At the high school, the plan includes a new wing for grades 7-9 on the site of the 60-year-old Frank White Education Center, which would be demolished. In addition to renovating the high school classrooms, a new gymnasium would be built, and the auditorium would be updated along with band and choir classrooms – all of which would provide space for community education. The 50-year-old restrooms would be remodeled to meet ADA standards, and the parking lots and portions of the roof would be repaired.

At Century School, two classroom additions would increase space for our growing enrollment while also accommodating early childhood programs, which would be moved from Frank White. Getting in and out of Century would be safer, thanks to an additional parking lot and a new drop-off and pick-up lane. At both the high school and Century, mechanical and ventilation systems would be upgraded to improve air quality, and security would be improved.

Question 2 seeks funding to build a new bus garage on district property and new tennis courts at Century School. It’s contingent on the approval of Question 1. If approved, the district would eliminate the annual lease at the current bus facility, which is too small. It is common for school districts to own their bus garages so they can ensure their vehicles are adequately maintained and properly sheltered under one roof. A larger facility would provide ample workshop space and a wash bay, and it would resolve the current safety concerns of busy Highway 34, which bus drivers must cross multiple times daily.

Finally, our district’s tennis program has long been a source of community pride. Unfortunately, the current Century tennis courts have a worn, unsafe playing surface after years of use. New courts would be safe for players and would be available to residents during non-school hours.

This investment plan addresses the top needs of our schools as identified by community members and independent assessments and is mindful of the costs to taxpayers. If both questions are approved, a residential home in the district with a median value of $200,000 would see a monthly tax increase of $9 per month.

I have been asked about the timing of the referendum as we continue to deal with the pandemic. Our district carefully considered whether it was the right time to propose a plan to voters. First, a strong majority of residents (75 percent) said they prefer a referendum this November versus next year, according to a scientific survey. We know that delaying investments in our school buildings will not change the needs. In fact, waiting will only increase the cost for taxpayers down the line. Today, interest rates are historically low, and construction contracts are extremely competitive.

You can find more details about the referendum at our website,, including the impact of the plan and how to vote. We want to do all we can to help voters make an informed choice this November.

In that spirit, I encourage you to contact me if you have questions or suggestions – at 218-237-6501 or

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