After wide margins of defeat, school board will have to determine where to go from here

    Almost 2,000 Crookston School District voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted against a trio of ballot questions put forth by the Crookston School Board seeking approval of a new bus garage, a second gymnasium at the high school, and an athletic field and track also at Crookston High School. The final tally, counted at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church after voting ended was:

Question #1: Bus garage
Yes: 553
No: 1,459

Question #2: CHS gym
Yes: 289
No: 1,718

Question #3: 
Athletic complex
Yes: 255
No: 1,751

    Question #1 asked voters to support a new bus garage featuring gas pumps, a shop, wash bays, storage for 18 buses and other school vehicles. It would be built on Highland School property, northwest of the school. It’s estimated cost was $3.425 million.

    Question #2 asked voters to support a two-station gymnasium and music/multi-purpose room being constructed at CHS, a project that also includes locker rooms, a concession stand, and public bathrooms. The addition, which would be built on the northwest side of the high school, would cost an estimated $4.875 million.

    Question #3 asked voters to support an athletic complex with a track and artificial turf athletic field to be built on the northwest side of CHS. It’s estimated cost was $3.105 million.

    The total estimated cost for the trio of proposed projects was $11.405 million.

    “It’s defeating,” School District Superintendent Chris Bates said of the wide margin of defeat for all three questions.

    Perhaps most defeating was the rejection of the bus garage project. While it’s essentially impossible to find anyone who doesn’t agree that the school district is in dire need of replacing its current bus garage facility, the bus garage project proposed on the ballot came under perhaps the most scrutiny from school district property owners, who said the price tag for the proposed facility was simply too steep.

    An April 4 public forum at CHS to discuss the trio of ballot questions attracted around 100 people, and was a bit contentious at times, as it was difficult to find anyone who was willing to say anything positive about any of the proposed facilities projects. Near the forum’s conclusion, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, School Board Chair Frank Fee returned the focus to the bus garage project, saying, “We really need a bus garage.”

    Considering the poor condition of the current bus garage, it seems unlikely that the school board and Bates can put the subject on the back-burner indefinitely. To a lesser degree, that’s potentially the case with the condition of the track at Ed Widseth Field at UMC, too, since it needs repair and has been deemed unable to host Section 8A track meets. And if UMC ever gets artificial turf for the football field or makes any other significant improvements to the facility, it’s possible that the track won’t be part of those long-term plans, since UMC does not have a track and field program.

    Typically, when the results of school referendums are close, school district officials put their heads together and eventually come up with a ballot proposal that they hope is more palatable for voters. But the wide margin of defeat for all three ballot questions on Tuesday sent an unmistakable signal to the school board and Bates that voters think the projects are too expensive (the bus garage) or, in the case of the gymnasium project and athletic complex at CHS, they aren’t needed.

    “Usually you’d come back with an alternate plan if the votes were close, but not when the gap is this wide,” Bates said.