PEQUOT LAKES -- The Pequot Lakes School District this fall will be asking taxpayers for about $28.4 million to build a new elementary school in Breezy Point and to renovate its current school into a sixth- through 12th-grade facility in 2002.
Board members Monday approved the recommendation made by its consulting firm, DLR Group of Minneapolis, and its strategic planning committee.
A date for the bond levy referendum has not yet been made but will likely take place in late fall or early winter, said Superintendent Jim Oraskovich. He said the board hasn't made the decision whether to hold the bond levy referendum the same day as the general school board elections or to have taxpayers vote on the measure on a separate day.
It will cost an estimated $18.5 million to build a new elementary school and an estimated $9.9 million to renovate the current building into a sixth- through 12th-grade building.
Instead of completing the initial $4.1 million in current facility renovations and then finishing the entire project in later years as the student population grows, board members unanimously voted to approve the entire $9.9 renovation project. Board Chair Brad Wallace was absent from Monday's meeting.
On a 5 to 1 vote with Board Member Michael Clasen opposed, the board approved a motion that up to $250,000 of the bond referendum be used for the school district to purchase additional land for any future school use before real estate costs escalate any further.
"Everybody knows we need a new elementary school," said Board Member Larry Schultz. "I think that rather than do it in two phases and tear (the current building) up again, let's do it all at one time."
Griff Davenport, an architect with DLR Group, said that the proposed phase one project would address only immediate needs, like additional classrooms, but the entire project would allow for greater utilization of the entire building.
If all goes as proposed, the middle level students will be housed in the current elementary wing while high school students will remain in the high school wing. New classrooms would be created, the media center would be enlarged in the high school and become a facility that could be used by the community and entire school. More lockers and common areas would be created, he said.
Existing classrooms would need to be renovated to serve specific classes, like adding additional band and music room space and by creating additional science labs. The small gym used for elementary students may be developed into another large group meeting room and four pie-shaped elementary classrooms would be reconfigured to become seventh-grade classrooms, said Davenport.
The district passed a $5 million bond referendum in 1996 that added additional classroom and cafeteria space, but the district has experienced a 4 percent increase in students each year in the past five years.
The current Pequot school building is near capacity. As of June 1, the district had 674 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and 614 seventh- through 12th-graders. But the building is considered to be at capacity with 720 elementary and 690 high school students. Within five years, the district is projected to be short space for 140 to 280 students.
On Monday alone, 20 new elementary students registered for classes this fall. It was only the first day for new students to register before school starts and more are expected to register from now until the first day of school, said Don Lenzen, Pequot Lakes Elementary principal.
"I think if we learned anything from the last referendum, we don't want to spend $10 million on a $5 million project 5-6 years down the road," said Board Member John Palmer, on why he felt the entire renovation project should be completed now.
Dorothy Yund, a retired Pequot Lakes teacher and a Breezy Point resident, said she has supported every bond referendum the district has passed -- until now.
Yund said for her and others she has talked to, it doesn't make sense that the district is about to spend so much money to renovate the current building.
"If you kick every elementary kid out of here, you don't need to spend $4 million to renovate this building," said Yund, referring to the proposed phase one of the project. "This is not going to pass. People think you're gold-plating the elementary school."
"I find it hard for someone to say cut the fat when we haven't been presented with what it's buying us," said Board Member David Kennedy. "We will only spend what it takes for us to build a good quality building."
"It's sticker shock to us, too," added Superintendent Jim Oraskovich.
"We are extremely short of space right now," said Board Member Deb Hallbeck. "We need a facility twice as big as we have today. It seems phenomenal, but it's what's been happening during the last five years."
Clasen and board member Jean Kraft expressed concern that taxpayers would perceive the up to $250,000 set aside within the bond referendum to buy new school property as excessive.
"As a board member now, I would have loved if a past board member did that for us," said Palmer. "With that last bond referendum, we would have saved a lot of money."
Bob Perkins, a Crosslake resident and strategic planning committee member, said he figured out that the $250,000 for future district land would cost the average taxpayer about 50 cents a month over a 20-year span. He also figured his taxes would increase about $20 a month if the bond referendum passes, but would likely go down to about $10 a month as more people move into the district as anticipated.
"It's a small amount of money to look toward the future of our kids," said Perkins. "You can't even go out for a meal for $10 and here we're getting an elementary school."
Griff Davenport explained how similar situations occurred to taxpayers in other growing school districts. As the tax base in the district increased, the impact of the bond levy referendum on individual property owners decreased, he said.
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