Reading, Writing and Real Estate

Minot voters will be asked to approve a $125 million bond issue on Dec. 10 to pay for new school construction and renovations.

However, Supt. Mark Vollmer and business manager Scott Moum said the final tally wouldn’t necessarily add up to that much; a successful bond issue would merely give the district the authority to spend up to $125 million if it turns out to be necessary.

“If there was no need to build the (second 9-12) high school, we wouldn’t build the high school,” said Vollmer.

Moum also said that not all of the bonds would be sold at once if the bond issue passes.

“Not all of the bonds would be sold in the first year,” said Moum. “They would be sold as needed. It might be three, four or even five years until the last of the bonds are sold.”

Voters are being asked to approve an increase of up to 51 mills or the sale of up to $125 million in bonds to pay for construction of a new elementary school on 10 acres of land already owned by the district at the corner of 37th Avenue and 13th Street Southeast; purchase of land in north Minot and construction of a second 9-12 high school; conversion of Central Campus into a fourth middle school for the school district; renovation of Magic City Campus so it can be turned into a 9-12 high school; and safety and security renovations, such as relocating school offices closer to building entrances; and school additions to accommodate growth.

In addition, voters will be asked to increase the school district’s debt limit to 10 percent, which is 5 percent beyond the current debt limit mandated by the state constitution.

Vollmer and Moum said growth is up in the school district. Current K-12 enrollment stands at nearly 7,400 students, compared with 7,152 last spring, and demographers estimate the district could reach 8,240 students by the 2017-2018 school year.

If the bond issue passes, taxes would go up substantially from this year, although Vollmer and Moum point out that property taxes still would be a bit less in 2014 than they were in 2012 despite the increase from this year’s school property taxes. The Legislature passed bills during the 2013 session that lowered the property tax bill for property owners this year.

According to a graph included in an informational poster that will be posted in all Minot schools, the average monthly school property tax for 2012 was $105.77. It went down to an average of $61.32 per month in 2013, with the tax relief provided by the Legislature. If the bond issue passes, the average monthly school property tax in 2014 would go back up to $99.71.

According to Moum’s estimates, if the bond issue passes, the owner of a $200,000 home in Minot could expect to see his school property-tax bill go up by $460.68 per year if the full $125 million was sought at once. For commercial property owners, the school property tax would increase roughly $255 per year for each $100,000 of commercial property. The owner of a quarter of land in McKinley and Eureka townships might see an increase of $244.80 per year for each quarter of land owned, according to Moum.

In response to questions from The Minot Daily News about specific costs for the projects, Moum, in consultation with Vollmer, provided the following written answers:

MDN: How did you come up with the $125 million figure?

Moum: A number of items factored into the board’s decision to seek $125 million in General Obligation Bonds: Input from the community during the numerous public forums, results of the facility assessment and master plan conducted by AWW/DLR in conjunction with local engineering firms, results of the demographic study of the district’s past, current and future growth patterns, projects’ costs and tax implications and other factors.

MDN: Preliminary estimates of how much individual projects would cost.

Moum:

Cost of a new 550-student elementary school: $18 million.

Cost of a new 1,400-student, 276,000 square foot 9-12 high school and renovation to Magic City Campus to accommodate 9-12 configuration: $83 million.

Cost of converting Central Campus into a grade 6-8 middle school: $6 million.

Costs of classroom additions and renovations to address growth: $12.5 million.

Costs of safety and security included in the $125 million bond referendum: $5.5 million.

MDN: Is there anything that could be scaled back to reduce costs?

Moum: In every building project, you can always scale back things to reduce initial costs. However, the long-term cost effectiveness and negative impact on the education being provided to the children of Minot by doing things “on the cheap” must be factored into any decision made regarding the construction to take place. Do we want to build buildings that last 25 years or buildings that last over 50 years? Do we want buildings that are energy efficient and can in the long term actually save the taxpayers money? Modern Safety and Security needs to be included in these projects, but to what extent? Do we want buildings that just get the students of Minot by, or do we want buildings that address today’s needs for an education that meets our mission to “Empower all learners to succeed in a changing world.”

MDN: How much is budgeted to buy land in north Minot to build a second 9-12 high school?

Moum: No exact amount has been budgeted for this since stating a number would undercut any potential future negotiations on a land purchase.

MDN: What areas are you looking at for the land?

Moum: Somewhere in north Minot. Nothing more specific than that has been discussed.

MDN: How much land is available/how many acres will you need?

Moum: 50 to 70 acres.

MDN: What design elements would be included in the new high school?

Moum: The district will collaborate with board members, administrators, teachers, students, patrons, architects and other professional consultants to determine the best options to meet today’s educational student needs within budget constraints.

MDN: Would it have a pool?

Moum: Again, too early to say, but yes, potentially, depending upon costs and budget constraints.

MDN: What about athletic fields?

Moum: Sufficient practice fields, but again too early to say for certain the extent of athletic fields. (There is) some discussion about using Duane Carlson Stadium for all track, football and soccer for both high schools if certain renovations are done to the existing facility.

MDN: What about parking lots?

Moum: Yes, sufficient parking lots.

MDN: How many middle school students would a remodeled Central Campus hold?

Moum: (Between) 700-900.

MDN: Would there be a new pool at Central Campus if it were renovated into a middle school and where would the pool be installed?

Moum: Too early for that detail.

MDN: How about athletic fields at Central?

Moum: (There is) limited space available, but yes, to the best of our ability.

MDN: What would have to be done at Magic City Campus to turn it into a 9-12 high school?

Moum: Renovations to accommodate a 9-12 configuration. For example, science rooms renovated to accommodate science classes that are normally taught in ninth and 10th grade.

MDN: What safety and security changes would be made at buildings in the district?

Moum: Entrance security renovations and security camera upgrades are two examples.

MDN: Which schools would the safety and security changes be made at?

Moum: All schools where needed.

MDN: You’ve talked about other additions at other schools. Which schools would be added onto?

Moum: (That is) to be determined, but obviously where we have, and will have, demonstrated growth. For example, portables have been added to Edison and Perkett in the last two years. Those could be buildings targeted for additions/renovations to bring them into the district’s four-section, 550-student elementary building standard and those sites both have the land mass available for any additions.

MDN: How big would those school additions be?

Moum: Unknown at this time, but sufficient to accommodate overcrowding and anticipated growth.

MDN: Do you have a Plan B if the bond issue fails?

Moum: The district is convinced that the plan being proposed is the correct plan to follow, so until the people have had a chance to speak on the issue, no, there has not been a Plan B developed. Obviously, if the growth continues, something will need to be done to address the additional 1,000 students that the demographer indicates we will have by 2018. With 24 existing portables in place and the need for an additional 300-400 seats in the middle schools just based on current numbers in the lower grades, the district will need to do something. Also, to address the middle school issue, the high school situation must be addressed. The people of Minot have indicated a majority favor a 9-12 comprehensive high school configuration.

MDN: What happens if voters turn down the bond issue in December?

Moum: The immediate results of a defeat of (the) bond issue would be that in all likelihood more portables would need to be purchased and placed where the immediate student growth is occurring. However, that would only be a temporary, costly fix and the school board would need to re-examine all issues and develop an alternative plan that addresses the problems the district is facing as a result of rapid growth and overcrowding.

MDN: Would you come back with a scaled-back proposal?

Moum: If the bond referendum fails, the board will need to consider other options. Obviously, the need to address the growth and overcrowding will still be present.

MDN: What other funding options would be available to the school district for building projects?

Moum: Under current North Dakota law, there are no other funding sources available to school districts to conduct large capital projects.

MDN: What would stop the school district from asking the city of Minot for funding from the community fund?

Moum: Nothing would stop that from occurring, but we would assume the question would be asked, “Is this what the community fund was intended for?”

MDN: What state funding options are available? I heard there is more than $1 billion in the common schools trust.

Moum: As stated before, and after consultation on July 25, 2013, with the N.D. Governor’s Office, the N.D. Attorney General’s office, the N.D. Department of Public Instruction office, N.D. State Land Board and other state officials, under current North Dakota Law there is no other funding mechanism in place for public school districts to conduct large capital projects. However, the State Land Board does provide low interest loans (which act as general obligation bonds as far as the school district is concerned) to eligible school districts. We would apply for the maximum we are eligible for if the referendum is successful.