WALKER -- It could cost Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District property taxpayers more next year to turn down the April 6 bond issue than to approve it, said Superintendent Boyd McLarty.
The Minnesota State Fire Marshal's Office has sited the district for about $250,000 of needed repairs at the Walker school and $500,000 to $1 million worth of repairs at the Akeley school.
If the bond issue passes, these corrections would be made as a part of remodeling and adding onto the Walker school complex. The corrections would be included in bond issue costs.
If the bond issue fails, the district would have state authorization to levy in 2001 to correct the fire safety problems, some of which would be done by demolishing the oldest section of the Akeley buildings.
WHA School Board voted in a special Wednesday meeting to select a permanent rather than temporary solution to building deficiency and inefficient operations caused by having two campuses if the bond issue fails.
For the 2000-2001 school year, fourth-graders would be moved back to the Walker campus from Akeley to four portable buildings. The district already is using portable buildings at Walker for junior high students.
In 2001, the old part of the Akeley building would be demolished, asbestos and lead paint would be removed from the remaining Akeley building, fire marshal repairs would be made on that building and the Walker one and special equipment would have to be purchased to provide lunch service equipment for the fifth- and sixth-graders remaining at Akeley.
By 2003, the fifth- and sixth-graders also would move to Walker, into another five to seven portable buildings, closing regular school use of the Akeley building.
The number of portables needed for those grades would be dependent upon whether the school board votes to increase class sizes to decrease the number of portable buildings purchased or rented.
Board members agreed to consider further options after the 2000-2001 school year before making a final decision in regard to the future of those buildings or to close the Akeley building.
Some options would depend upon whether the district could extend an option to purchase city property south of the Walker school complex for additional athletic fields beyond the April bond election.
McLarty said the city would have to agree to a three-year extension for the district's option to buy, because land purchase funds would not be available for another three years if the bond issue fails.
Currently, Akeley athletic fields and gymnasium are a major component of the district's elementary and practice athletic programs.
If all grades move to Walker after three years, McLarty said it will mean four lunch shifts for elementary students, loss of some music, computer and athletic spaces to basic education classes. A lot of spaces would have to be shared.
Reading and math would get priority in the changes, McLarty told the board.
"We will have to levy to cram more people into a smaller area," McLarty said, adding consolidation at Walker would give more efficient operations either under the new construction bond referendum proposal or under the portable building alternative.
"None of these options are good for education," McLarty said of the portable building three-year permanent plan versus another temporary plan he proposed to the board as options should the referendum fail.
Either under the new construction referendum proposal or under the permanent move to portable buildings at Walker, the district expects to save $250,000 per year operations costs once all students attend school in Walker.
With new school construction under the referendum proposal this cost saving would be realized in one year. Under the portable building alternative, it would take three years to realize these savings.
If voters force the district to use the portable building alternative the board selected Wednesday, McLarty said the Walker complex would be at capacity.
There would be no room under that plan to provide all-day kindergarten if the Legislature mandates that, nor would there be room for more students as state demographic projections predict for districts in Cass County where population growth exceeds other parts of the state, he added.
Voters will be asked to cast their ballots from 4 to 8 p.m. April 6 at Onigum Community Center, Walker School, Hackensack Village Hall or Akeley Elementary School.
If voters approve the bond issue, $14,950,000 in bonds would be used to demolish the old Akeley School section, build a new high school wing at Walker and remodel existing Walker buildings to accommodate all elementary students.
Currently, fourth- through sixth-graders attend school at Akeley.
Public information meetings have been held in Walker and Akeley. Anyone wishing more information about this issue may attend 7 p.m. informational meetings Monday at Hackensack Community Center or Thursday at the Onigum Community Center.
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