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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 16 2012

Pelican Rapids seeks $18.5 million to upgrade schools

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. – The school board voted 6-0 Wednesday to hold a vote on $18.5 million in bonding to modernize the high school and middle school other district facilities.

The vote would be held March 12, in conjunction with the township general election, school district Superintendent Deb Wanek said Thursday.

Wanek said the high school, parts of which date to 1928, has 13 different levels, antiquated science facilities and no commons or secure entrance.

“We need to have a facility that’s truly usable for the public and the students,” Wanek said.

School board Chairman Don Perrin said that the work is long overdue.

“We need to upgrade some of our classrooms, and have more space for activities,” Perrin said. “I know the cafeteria is where I spent my kindergarten years, and I know that was a long time ago.”

The bonds would be used for:

• Adding a secure entrance to the high school and middle school.

• Interior renovations to the high school science areas and junior high classrooms.

• Adding a student commons, kitchen, cafeteria, fine arts auditorium, gymnasium, locker room, and wrestling and dance spaces to the high school/secondary school.

• Bathroom upgrades.

• Security upgrades.

• Parking and site improvements.

• Districtwide deferred maintenance.

The district held a referendum in 2005 on building a new high school, but it was soundly defeated, Perrin said.

Wanek said a community group studied the district’s facilities with the help of staff and an outside engineer, and the plan follows that group’s recommendations.

District voters approved a five-year, $600-per-pupil operating levy in 2011, Wanek said.

“This will be the next step, to get the building up to what we need it to be,” she said.

She said the bonds will be paid for with taxes on homes, seasonal recreational properties and farmland.

“We have almost 50 percent of seasonal recreational property in our tax base,” Wanek said.

She estimated taxes would rise $50 to $60 on a $100,000 home. She had no estimates on the tax impact for businesses, farmland or other properties.

“We’ve got to do something,” Perrin said. “I’d rather (revamp the existing school) than try to go for a brand new one.”

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