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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 20 2011

Casselton referendum builds steam

CASSELTON, N.D. – There was little vocal opposition Monday from school district residents to a plan to build a $4.8 million addition to Central Cass School.

During a pre-referendum informational meeting at the school, supporters of a plan to build a mix of classrooms, gym and auditorium space detailed the difficulty of teaching in tight quarters and the benefits the community could reap.

“This is definitely needed,” said teacher Renae Amundson. “We need it all.”

The gym is booked with activities including a musical and book fairs 49 days a year – pushing gym classes into the halls and foyer, choir teacher Andrea Greenawalt said. Musicians also don’t have enough practice spaces, she said.

“Let’s go for it,” she said.

“Do it with real commitment; don’t be bashful,” urged resident Bernie Sinner.

About 70 people attended the meeting held a little more than a week before a Sept. 29 vote on a plan to add 31,000 square feet of instructional space to the school.

A plan nearly identical to this one, except for a change in how it will be paid, fell a few votes shy of the 60 percent voter approval needed in an April referendum.

Not all at the meeting were ready to sign off on the plan.

“We’re curious why they made certain decisions” in the planning, said Sara Johnson, Superintendent Mark Weston said the need for more room ­hasn’t gone away since the April vote.

More rooms are needed to accommodate continued strong kindergarten enrollment, English Language Learners, alternative learning and Title I programs, he said. Band and choir also need dedicated spaces, and gym space is at a premium, he said.

“We’re trying to get teachers out of closets and coat rooms” and into classrooms, Weston said.

Weston said no analysis has been done to determine how Casselton’s space compares to similar districts. However, he said the extra space would add $25,000 to $30,000 in energy costs a year.

A key component of the proposal has been changed for this vote. Instead of creating a permanent 20-mill building fund, this vote calls for bonds to be paid over 20 years, then ending the mill levy to pay for the bonds, Weston said.

If approved, the project would add six classrooms, an auditorium that can be used as a performance space or gym, a third full-size gym, and more music practice, locker room and storage spaces.

The owner of a $100,000 home would be asked to pay $90 more a year in property taxes.

A business would pay $100 more a year for every $100,000 in value. Farmland would be taxed another 71 cents per acre, or $113.60 a quarter section, Weston said.

Rev. Paula Mehmel said the auditorium would benefit theater groups and handle large events.

“Adding more space enhances the whole community,” she said.

And resident Tristin Frank said space for extra-curricular activities will help students and make the city an attractive place to live.

“Do we want our students and children just to get through?” he asked. “I think it’s really being short-sighted” to not pay for facilities.

“I want my kids to have more to do than say, ‘Let’s go and drink,” Frank said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583