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School upgrade proposals get mixed reaction from residents PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Steve Ostermann   
Wednesday, 16 November 2016 20:09

Referendum options draw public support, criticism at community listening events

Plans to repair and expand Grafton School District facilities drew a mixed reaction from residents during a pair of community listening sessions last week.

The sessions, which were presented by the Facilities Advisory Committee, each attracted about 75 people — with some saying they understand the need for upgrades and others questioning and criticizing the multi-million-dollar price tag on project options.

The 31-member committee, which was formed after voters rejected two borrowing proposals in an April referendum, has pared the list of upgrade options from nine to two in preparation for another possible referendum in April 2017.

During the sessions, project architect Jody Andres of Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction reviewed the current status of each option:

n A three-campus option, estimated to cost $44.9 million, calls for razing Grafton Elementary School, renovating and expanding Kennedy and Woodview elementary schools and upgrading John Long Middle School.

Under this plan, Kennedy and Woodview would be expanded to accommodate more 4K to fifth-grade students.

With the removal of Grafton Elementary School, the adjoining Grafton High School would be expanded and receive upgrades to science, technology, engineering and math, fine arts, technical education and physical education departments.

n A two-campus option, estimated to cost $51.3 million, calls for razing Grafton Elementary School and the adjoining district office and constructing a middle school at the site.

The campus would combine the middle and high schools. Extensive additions and upgrades to the high school are included.

John Long School would be used for first through fifth grades. Kennedy School would be used as the district office, with Woodview School renovated for 4K and kindergarten classes.

The committee was formed after voters rejected a $47.7 million upgrade plan for district buildings and a $1.8 million plan to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas. 

“Unfortunately, the outcome of the April 2016 referendum did not change the facility needs in the district,” Committee Chairman Paul Lorge said during the Nov. 9 listening session.

Lorge said the committee will continue exploring ways to pare upgrade costs, including reducing the size of building additions. However, he noted that construction costs have risen since April and can be expected to increase by next spring.

In preparation for future upkeep of district facilities, Lorge said, the School Board has established a maintenance fund.

Several residents, including district teachers, spoke in support of each upgrade option, citing deteriorating conditions in buildings.

“These schools are bad. This is not some kind of luxury,” resident Dan Nash said. “Prisons in the state are in better shape than our schools.”

Committee member Bob Meier said he appreciates the cost concerns of residents who rejected the last referendum questions but believes the newest options are important steps in finding long-term solutions.

“I think we really need to do the math and determine how much of the cost are maintenance items that need to be done,” he said. “We want the biggest bang for our buck.”

Other residents voiced concerns about proposed costs and the district should have done a better job of maintaining facilities in the past.

“I don’t understand how we got to this point and how we can prevent going there again,” resident Paul Lazzari said.

“I’m not comfortable signing up to spend more money.”

Resident John Meinecke said the latest options would impose the same burden on taxpayers as those proposed in the failed referendum.

“It seems like we’re getting the same answers we did last time,” Meinecke said. 

“Forty-plus-million dollars isn’t going to fly, so we have to think long and hard about this.”

In response, Lorge said that referendum costs are expected to increase 10% annually if the projects are delayed.

“We’ve heard at listening sessions that the numbers are too big,” he said. “We’ve got to be mindful of costs, but they’re not going to go down if we delay things.”

Supt. Jeff Nelson said the upgrade projects would cut operational costs because buildings would be more energy-efficient. District staff could also be reduced by consolidating facilities, he said.

The committee will next meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in the Grafton High School library.

A recommendation on the referendum question is expected to be forwarded to the School Board in December. Meeting that deadline will allow the board enough time to decide in January whether to hold an April 2017 referendum, Lorge said.

Under state law, the board decision must be made by no later than 70 days before the referendum date.  

Residents can obtain more referendum information and provide feedback to upgrade options through a survey link at www.graftonschools.org/facilities.  

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