The school year is already off to a strong start at Park Rapids Area Schools as students dive into their studies, begin fall sports and sign up for activities.

Throughout the year, our top priority will be to provide students with as normal of a learning experience as possible in a healthy and safe environment.

As we work toward another successful year, our communities will be deciding on a major question that will impact the future of our schools. Early voting recently began on Friday, Sept. 17 for the Nov. 2 school bond referendum which, if approved, would allow the district to finance $51.65 million to address critical challenges with our school buildings.

Comprehensive information on the new plan can be found at the district’s relaunched website, PRoject309.org.

The plan incorporates several core elements from the bond referendum that failed by 45 votes in April. Since then, many residents have expressed support for the top goals of the plan and encouraged the district to incorporate other funding sources to bring down the overall cost.

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Mindful of that guidance, the new plan will utilize one-time, federal COVID-relief funding and existing long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) bonds and capital facility bonds to help reduce the tax impact on local residents.

These additional funding sources will cut the cost of the plan by $4.57 million. The school board will use these dollars to pay for projects, such as upgrading HVAC systems at the high school, replacing sections of the high school roof and rebuilding the tennis courts.

The district is proposing a new plan after community input and years of research identified a wide range of deficiencies at our buildings that are impacting learning. Among the concerns: inadequate security at school entrances, outdated air flow systems that control air quality and temperature control, grade alignment that limits student learning opportunities and antiquated classroom designs that can no longer support a modern curriculum.

The investment plan would support upgrades to our 50-year-old high school to improve security, classroom space and accessibility, as well as renovations at Century School that include an additional pickup, drop-off and parking area.

Other investments would include additional spaces for career and technical education and a new bus garage. The Frank White Education Center would be replaced to make room for a new wing at the high school to accommodate seventh and eighth graders. This would also allow our youngest students (pre-K-grade 6) to learn together at Century School.

If the plan is approved, a residential home with a median value of $200,000 would see a property tax increase of $9 per month. You can learn how the plan would impact taxes on your property by using the tax calculator at PRoject309.org/cost. This is the district’s school planning website that has been updated with more information about the needs of our schools, the proposed plan and its impact.

I encourage everyone to learn more about the plan and make their voices heard on Nov. 2. To vote early by mail, residents must request an absentee ballot. Absentee ballot requests can be downloaded at PRoject309.org/voting, and returned to Kim Splett at ksplett@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or by mail to the district office. You can also request an absentee ballot application by calling the district office at 218-237-6500.

I look forward to the upcoming school year and am grateful to all who continue their support and work to make our schools a better place to learn and grow. I am available to answer any questions you have at lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or 218-237-6501. Go, Panthers!