Public to vote May 20, 2014
In a unanimous vote on Thursday, Dec. 5, the Forest Lake Area School Board decided to go all out.
The price tag to rearrange, repair and upgrade the district’s facilities will be $176 million – if the taxpayers agree.
The improvements would be funded with general obligation bonds, subject to voter approval at a special election on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
The 2012 facilities task force recommended creating a secondary campus around the high school and Century Junior High, closing the Central Learning Center and moving its programs to Southwest Junior High, and making needed repairs to the elementary schools.
The School Board liked the idea and refined it: The high school would be expanded to hold grades nine through 12 (it now has grades 10-12), and Century would be expanded to take in all students in grades seven and eight.
Board Member Dan Keiger thanked the task force for excellent work.
Other board members listed several reasons for supporting the proposal.
Board Member Erin Turner said she was struck by the task force vision, “so out of the box and so powerful.”
Turner said the plan “will significantly improve curriculum and student achievement.”
She pointed out that the upgrades affect students in all levels, elementary through high school, and in many subject areas, including science, art and athletics.
Board Member Julie Corcoran agreed, saying fairness was important.
“I want all the schools to feel equal,” she said.
Board Member Gail Theisen said the district is known for a strong academic program and this change would “unite our superior academics with superior facilities.”
Board Member Karen Morehead said she has talked to realtors and concluded that the district would attract many more students if the plan is accomplished.
Board President Rob Raphael repeated a story he has told before. He and his wife built a new house 20 years ago, he said, and three years ago, they noticed some problems.
“We were inspired by the 2010 facilities task force,” he said. “We went around with a notebook and made a list. We had sticker shock – it cost quite a bit of money – but we got a home improvement loan and fixed things.”
Now the home is sound, he said, and will be good for years. He believes the same needs to happen to district buildings.
“We have to take these schools and make them good for the next generation, make those buildings strong for years to come, ” he said.
Raphael said a future school board, when voting to make the next set of needed improvements, will say, “They made the right decision 20-30 years ago when they stepped up to the plate.”
The task force recommended a bond not to exceed $130 million. Since then, detailed cost information has raised the price. Options ranging from $137 million to $192 million were presented to the board.
Concerned that the board was going above the task force recommendation, School Board Member Kathy Bystrom said, she called some task force members and found them very supportive.
Bystrom quoted one who said, “My feeling is that we want to do it right, not completely irrespective of price, but the price is secondary to the mission.”
Morehead, noting the big price tag, said maintenance should have been done a long time ago, as the cost increases if repairs are delayed.
“I hope everyone in the community will take time to study how it’s financed,” she said.
Turner, referring to charts presented at the truth-in-taxation meeting earlier that evening, said District 831 expenditures are far below average, both statewide and compared to surrounding communities.
“We have room to catch up,” she said. “The costing that came forward gave me more optimism that this is a real possibility.”
Raphael said he is “proud of the work the task force has done and proud of us tonight.”