by Sue Dieter
Voters in the Hancock School District will likely be at the polls in December to decide on a $5.4 million dollar referendum for new construction at the school.
The school board met last week with representatives of I & S Group, an engineering consultant group from Mankato, Minn. They presented a draft of the project proposal that is required by the Minnesota Department of Education for Review and Comment prior to holding a referendum.
The plan included three options and estimated costs for the school district.
The first option was a six-room addition for a cost of $4,767,900.
The second option was a six-room addition and renovations to the 1960s portion of the building for a cost of $5,393,700.
The third option was an eight-room addition at a cost of $5,949,100.
Superintendent Jerry Martinson said that if the board wants to have the construction done by the start of the 2013-2014 school year, they had to take action that night. This would give the Minnesota Department of Education 60 days to review the plans and still allow for a vote in December and summer construction if the referendum was approved.
Board members seemed surprised by those figures. Board member Randy Reese commented that he was expecting the total cost to be between four and five million and now it's between five and six million.
Brian Gjerde, of I & S, told the board that the costs included in the project proposal are the worst case scenario and they would be further refined as the project takes shape. Gjerde said that the project is not extravagant because of the short construction time frame. He said they assumed the addition would be constructed of pre-cast concrete instead of brick.
Board members then spent the better part of 90 minutes discussing the various aspects of the project proposal.
Board member Ken Feuchtenberger said that even though the figures were higher than expected, the timing for a project like this is good. He noted that the interest rates were low and the financing should be favorable.
Board member Barry Nelson said that every dollar does matter to taxpayers. But he stressed that the renovations to the 1960s portion of the building are a necessity, saying some of the lockers in that portion are "older than us."
Board member Rod Peterson noted that the district needs to add space, as classrooms were getting crowded.
Principal Tim Pahl commented that the goal is to make a functional building. When questioned on his preference, Pahl said he favors the six-room addition with the renovations to the other portions.
"As much as I'd like to see the eight-room addition," Pahl said, "you're talking about adding two more rooms for a million dollars."
Board member Joel Flaten asked if they thought they could get the referendum passed at $5.4 million.
Nelson replied that as long as they can prove to the voters that this is needed, he felt it would be supported.
Pahl said that the 1960 addition was well built and is still an asset to the community and that should be the goal for this project as well. So, 30 or 40 years from now, a future school board will have options because this school board chose to do this right.
Reese asked if there was any way to lower the cost for this option below $5 million, saying he has a hard time spending someone else's money.
Gjerde replied that the construction committee looked at all of the options and there wasn't much included in the proposal that isn't needed. Cuts would have to come from delaying repairs and he said that would just end up costing more in the future.
Martinson said that the district can certainly demonstrate a need for the classrooms and the renovation will help with the learning atmosphere.
Nelson said that a public meeting will be held to explain the project and the people who are concerned with the cost of the project will be able to ask questions.
Flaten made a motion to proceed with the second option, construction of six new classrooms and renovations to the 1960s portion of the building. Tim Schafer offered the second and the motion passed on a unanimous voice vote.