Crookston School District held a bus garage tour at their current facility and a public forum Thursday to discuss the two referendum questions on the upcoming November 5 ballot. District Superintendent Jeremy Olson was present at both the tour and forum to answer questions and offer insight on both referendum subjects.
The first question on the referendum will be to renew the operating levy for an additional ten years for school operations only, as ownership of the Crookston Community Pool was recently taken over by the City of Crookston. If passed, it will result in a tax decrease from the current operating levy.
The second question on the referendum is to seek a building bond for construction of a new bus garage. The cost of the bus garage project is estimated at $2.9 million and would require a ten year bond.
At the end of Thursday’s public forum, Superintendent Olson pointed out the dire need for Question 1’s operating levy to pass by saying, “Simply put, 97 percent of Minnesota school districts have operating referendums. We’re very thankful to work with legislators, but we’re not keeping up with inflation. We’re asked to do the same or more with less. That’s why you see so many districts needing operating referendums. This is to function as a district, this is to keep the lights on. It affects us by over $1 million a year and it’s crucial that we don’t lose sight over our operating referendum. It’s our life blood. It’s important.”
CURRENT BUS GARAGE
The district’s current bus garage is located in an older building in downtown Crookston and has a list of challenges which was the driving force of Question 2 on the referendum. Transportation Coordinator Rick Niemela visited with the Times and the public during the tour about his concerns which include, but are not limited to, the building’s sagging roof, having to spend more money on air suspension and low-profile accessories to decrease the height of the buses to allow them access into the older building, and, of course, space issues.
Crookston School District also assists Red Lake Falls’ school district with bus repairs making the proposed extra shop space with the new bus garage an amenity considering Crookston currently parks some of their own buses outside due to lack of space. Additionally, Crookston’s third garage building has three rows of buses and only one door creating an obstacle for drivers.
If passed, the new bus garage would be located northwest of Highland Elementary School with a larger bus garage and separate building for other district vehicles.
During Thursday’s forum, the bus garage committee that was formed months ago explained their process for finding the “right bus garage for Crookston.”
“We needed a bus garage that makes sense, is feasible and meets codes and guidelines,” explained Superintendent Olson. “We asked Rick (Niemela) what meets your needs and the needs of the drivers.”
“The bus garage we currently have is not the solution for our future,” he added.
The bus garage committee spent several months planning and visited three different districts, including Lake of the Woods, Cass County North and Fertile-Beltrami, to see what they had for bus garages.
Bus garage committee member Dan Crane told the forum audience he believed they had a good “rounded” group of committee members who had a “zillion” questions for the architects. He believed, and agreed with Olson, that what was finally selected for the proposal is the most cost-effective and user-friendly.
If the bus garage referendum passes, Superintendent Olson said they’d like to be strategic with their timeline when considering talking to architects over the final design package and would seek bids over the winter and start construction in late spring.
Only a couple members of the forum audience had additional questions that weren’t already explained with one person asking about the difference between building for commercial use versus educational use. Todd Blixt of ICON Architectural Group of Grand Forks (project consultants) explained that, for instance, when building a commercial business like a bank or office building they wouldn’t be required to add sprinkler systems but a school would. Blixt said building to educational code is “pretty strict” and has a “more restrictive code compliance.”
Tax impact information for residential, commercial, agricultural homestead and non-homestead properties for both referendum questions and additional information is available on the district’s website, www.crookston.k12.mn.us.