The Crookston School Board at a special meeting Tuesday evening agreed with a unanimous recommendation from the Bus Garage Committee and unanimously approved going to district voters in November with a ballot question asking them to approve issuing bonds for a new bus garage facility costing approximately $2.9 million that would be located on Highland School property.
The selected proposal actually involves two structures. One would be a heated, pre-engineered metal building 16,800 feet in size that will have office space, restrooms, a break room, a maintenance bay for two buses and a wash bay for one, and storage stalls for 18 buses. The second, “stick-built” building adjacent to the bus garage would be 3,600 square feet in size and house other district vehicles such as its Suburban, skid-steer and other equipment.
The proposed buildings, district Transportation, Building and Grounds Coordinator Rick Niemela said, “Will fit our needs.”
The current bus garage is located in a residential area near where Crookston Central High School once stood. It’s around a century old, has poor ventilation, and the lack of ceiling clearance in the current building means the district has to specially order new school buses in order for them to fit.
In May of 2017, district voters soundly rejected a ballot question seeking a bus garage costing around $500,000 more than the one the board selected on Tuesday. Soon after Jeremy Olson was hired as superintendent last summer, he formed the Bus Garage Committee with farmers, building experts and various stakeholders from the community. After meeting for several months, touring various buildings elsewhere and debating various options, the committee arrived at eight options. In late June, they recommended board approval of the $2.9 million option.
Also on Tuesday, the board approved the bond issuance structure to finance the proposed bus garage project. Presented with bond repayment window options covering 10, 14 and 16 years by Shelby McQuay, a municipal advisor with the district’s public finance advisor, Ehlers, the board unanimously picked the 10-year repayment option, agreeing that they want to pay as little interest on the bonds as possible. McQuay said the option picked by the board makes financial sense.
The only debate that emerged Tuesday involved the bus garage proposal’s lack of a fueling station, which the current bus garage has. Board member Tim Dufault, a farmer, said it would be “crazy” not to have a fueling station because of all the time drivers would spend driving to gas stations to fill up. “It’s like building a house and not having a bathroom,” he said. “Farmers would understand this. You put fuel tanks on the farm so you don’t have to drive to town to get fuel.”
Board chair Frank Fee, echoed by Olson and board member Dave Davidson, said it was important to follow the Bus Garage Committee’s recommendation, and Fee and Olson also said it seemed important to keep the projected price below $3 million.
Olson did note, however, that there is a “very restricted” state funding source involving building maintenance and other building needs that he think he could utilize to pay for a fueling station if the board so prefers, without adding to the price of the bonding project being proposed. “If the board would be OK with a fueling station, we would be able to fund it without using general operations dollars from our budget,” Olson explained.
There will be a second question on the ballot in November as well, asking voters to extend a 10-year operating levy referendum that would actually amount to a decrease in their current school district property taxes, McQuay explained, because the revenue specific to the swimming pool that the district no longer owns would be removed. The current operating levy referendum expires in 2022.
How the questions will be worded and structured is an important decision the board needs to make when it next meets on July 22, Olson said.