School board debates ‘legacy investment’

Scope, date of proposed levy to be determined Dec. 5


Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Last year the school district’s facilities task force recommended a bold plan to replace aging systems at the elementary schools and to combine the secondary schools on a single campus.

Since then, Forest Lake School District staff have presented options and prices.

Now it’s time for the board to decide. What should the district try to accomplish? At what cost? And when should voters go to the polls to bestow or withhold their blessing?

Major borrowing would be required to carry out the task force recommendations.

At the Oct. 10 meeting, the board heard options ranging from $137 million to $171 million.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, another option had a price tag of $192 million.

Next week the board will meet twice, on Monday, Dec. 2 and Thursday, Dec. 5, to decide the final list and levy amount to put before the voters.

Numbers have been crunched for the $171 million and $192 million amounts. For these the owner of a $200,000 house would pay from $200 to $342 per year for 30 years. On a $100,000 home, the yearly impact would be between $79 and $136.

Business Director Larry Martini pointed out that even the most costly option would keep Forest Lake’s levy below that of neighboring district Centennial. “That would put us closer to them, but it’s still less,” he said.

Board President Rob Raphael said he was nervous about what the homeowner cost might be, but “these numbers are very reasonable, compared to other districts — especially for a project that is a life-time achievement for the public at this time.”

Raphael, who has served on the board for 10 years, concluded, “I could say, ‘This is my legacy.’”

Board Member Gail Theisen agreed. “The numbers seem doable to me. We may as well go for it. Think of the next century.”

Board Member Kathy Bystrom also expressed support. “I want to be a good steward of the taxpayer,” she said, “but we continue to piecemeal things together. I was struck by the practicality of the task force proposal. [They said] take what we have, not build a brand new high school. Piecemeal is not the way to go. It’s not excessive. We’re not building a Taj Majal.”

Board Member Erin Turner called the proposal “a life-changing project for our community.”

After the 2010 facilities task force reported, the district voted on a $26 million bond, which failed. The amount proposed for that levy was based partly on a survey to find out how much taxpayers were willing to pay.

Raphael said this proposal “has to be more project-based. Present this as something they can wrap their heads around, not how much they will pay,” he said.

Morehead said people did not understand what the district was planning with the failed levy proposal. “This time … this is like a vision,” she said.

Raphael said he has often heard people say the district should tear down an elementary school. But he always thought the elementary schools, hubs of the community, are the strongest part of the district.

Keeping them in place, and building the junior high and high school tier stronger, he said, is the answer. “That’s how we manage all these buildings for the next 50 years out,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Board Member Julie Corcoran agreed. “It’s something we can really be proud of,” she said.

CLC’s future

Because of inefficiencies and needed repairs, under each proposal the Central Learning Center building would be torn down and its programs moved to other locations.

“Everybody in our community walks in there, and it’s an embarrassment,” Board Member Dan Keiger said. “What will it look like 20 years from now? This has been a money pit since the 1950s. It’s time to move on.”

Superintendent Linda Madsen said the facilities task force did not enter lightly into the decision to scrap the CLC. “They were very thoughtful about that. Could we ever get it to a level where we’d be satisfied with how it looks and functions? They decided it isn’t worth it,” she said.

The income that might be generated by selling the Central Learning Center site was presented at the Nov. 21 meeting. According to Julie Nash Smith of Re/Max, the 4- to 6-acre site might bring $300,000 to $480,000.

The land would first be cleared. Demolition-related work is estimated at $530,000, higher than the estimated land value.

Property values

Property values are expected to increase as the area rebounds from the recession after 2008, Martini said, and housing growth is expected in Forest Lake and Hugo.

Raphael said if this project is successful, local property values would go up as the district becomes more attractive to families. Turner agreed. “People pick where to live based on school districts,” she said.

If development and growth lead to a larger tax base, the cost for an individual homeowner might decrease.

Remaining issues

At the Nov. 21 meeting the school board revisited the need for a gymnasium or auditorium at Century Junior High, lack of storage in the high school auditorium, and the number of lockers used by high school students. Further discussion of these and other questions will continue at the Dec. 2 meeting.

Handling traffic and getting students safely from the junior high to the high school still need to be worked out. Both a bridge over Goodview Avenue and a tunnel under would require moving high-voltage power lines, an expensive proposition. Some board members reject the tunnel idea altogether.

Architect Lee Meyer of DLR Group explained that a bridge would actually be a big ramp “with a really long approach, to be accessible.”

A road project would need city, county and state funding.

Theisen asked about closing the road altogether. “Police and fire would object,” Meyer said. “They like to have access from two ways.”

Closing Goodview Avenue would mean building other roads to accommodate the 14,000 cars that use it every day.

The board was told a signalized location is very safe for pedestrians.


Possible dates for the public to vote on the levy were presented at the Nov. 7 school board meeting: Jan. 2, Mar. 11, May 7 to June 16 and Aug. 12. The general election will be held Nov. 4. The March date is during spring break.

Choosing the election date is on the agenda for the Dec. 5 board meeting.

  • Raphael, who has served on the board for 10 years, concluded, “I could say, ‘This is my legacy.’”
    – You are not elected to public office to set a personal legacy for yourself. One could argue this is a legacy of debt!

    Morehead said people did not understand what the district was planning with the failed levy proposal. “This time … this is like a vision,” she said.
    – So Karen, do you really believe that the public are not smart enough when they vote no?

    Board Member Erin Turner called the proposal “a life-changing project for our community.”
    – Well, she got it right, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases certainly is life-changing!