Although the full package of improvements in the three local public school buildings and swimming pool – some urgently needed and some of a lesser priority – tops the $16 million mark, it's around $2 million in improvements at the pool – most of the urgent variety – that dominated the discussion at a facilities improvement public input meeting hosted by the Crookston School Board Tuesday and Johnson Controls, the contractor that's spent months analyzing and prioritizing the buildings' many needs.
Several of the approximately 40 people in attendance, many of them self-professed pool supporters, questioned why they were asked to approve a pool-specific levy referendum in 2011 that, today, appears to be woefully short when it comes to the $150,000 or so in revenue it's bringing in each year over 10 years. Although some of the money has resulted in new tiling for the swimming and diving pool and brighter, more energy-efficient lighting, pool proponents bemoaned the fact that the pool still desperately needs a new roof, boiler and ventilation/dehumidification system, which are expected to cost almost $2 million. Pool supporters in attendance also said that when the school board and administration in 2011 pushed district voters to vote "yes" for the pool referendum leading up to the November vote, they didn't make it known that around half of the $150,000 that would be raised each year would be applied to the school district's share of the approximately $140,000 annual operating deficit, split each year with the City of Crookston.
(Note to readers: A search of Crookston Daily Times stories and editorials from Oct. 10, 2011 to May 4, 2012 found one editorial and seven stories that specifically mention around half of the pool-specific revenue going toward the operating deficit, and the other half going toward maintenance and improvement projects.)
The school board, due to various types of state levy statutes, could do around $10 million in maintenance and improvement projects at the four facilities without seeking voter approval. The rest, no such levy authority exists, meaning district voters would have to approve major projects such as a needed new roof at Crookston High School.
Strangely, Superintendent Chris Bates said, the board needs voter approval for the CHS roof, but not to replace the east and west parking lots. "It makes no sense that we can't put a new roof on the high school if the voters say no, but we can put a new parking lot in no matter what you say," he told the group. "But these are the rules we have to live by."
Whatever the board decides to include in the package, which will be a combination of things they can do without voter approval as well as a ballot question for district voters to consider in November, Bates said it will be financed over 20 years. Bates, board members and Johnson Controls representatives continue to stress that, with the bonds that built the high school to be paid off in two years and another, smaller operating levy to come off the books in 2014, pretty much the entire maintenance and improvement package can be carried out in the summer of 2014 with a very minimal tax increase to district residents. Some won't see a tax increase at all, Dave Bergeron of Johnson Controls said, and some will actually see a small tax decrease.
Page 2 of 2 - "Interest rates may never be lower than they are right now," Bates said, adding that he thinks the district would be able to finance the 20-year package at around a 3 percent interest rate.
Many in attendance said that when they go to the ballot box in November, they want assurances on exactly what the school board is going to spend the money on and what will be the highest priority items.
Board Chair Frank Fee said that won't be a problem. "This isn't going to be some kind of wish list," he said. "Whatever is on that list, if you approve it, it's going to get done, period."
Next up, the board will hold a working session at 7 a.m. Monday, July 15 at the high school to move closer to a decision on the subject of facilities needs and improvements. They could make a decision later that day, when they hold a regularly scheduled meeting at 5 p.m. in the CHS choir/orchestra room.
• Washington School, although Bates said it's in relatively good shape, needs a new roof, window improvements and ventilation in the gym.
• Highland School needs to replace its 45-year old boiler and needs new windows. It also needs a new ventilation system, Bergeron said, because the current system was designed for a middle school with hardly any walls. Those days are long gone, and many walls have since been added to the elementary school.
• The high school needs a new roof, new parking lots and many of the 105 heat pumps that heat the school need to be replaced.
• The pool needs a new roof, boiler and ventiliation/dehumidification system.