School bond election approaching soon

Four months after they defeated a $125 million bond issue, Minot voters will go to the polls April 8 to decide whether to approve a scaled-back version of the plan.

If approved, the $39.5 million bond issue would pay for construction of a new elementary school in southeast Minot and school additions at Edison and Perkett Elementaries, as well as safety and security additions at schools throughout the district. In addition, the bond vote would fund the construction of a new gymnasium at Perkett Elementary and renovation of the existing gymnasium into a school lunchroom.

Voting will take place in one polling place on April 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Minot Municipal Auditorium.

Voters also have the option of voting early, March 31 through April 3 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Ex-Servicemen’s Room at the Ward County Courthouse. Absentee ballots are now available at the Ward County Auditor’s office.

If passed, the bond referendum would pay for construction of a 550-student elementary school on land the district already owns in southeast Minot, for classroom additions and renovations at Perkett and Edison elementaries and safety and security upgrades at other schools in the district, which would include relocating school offices to a centralized location, additional security cameras and buzzer systems to enter schools.

Cost estimates are as follows: $350,000 for safety and security remodeling at Bel Air Elementary; $280,000 for safety and security remodeling at Bell Elementary; $325,000 for safety and security remodeling at Dakota Elementary; $3.225 million for a classroom addition at Edison; $25,000 for additional security cameras at Lewis and Clark Elementary; $25,000 for additional security cameras at Longfellow Elementary; $125,000 for safety and security remodeling at McKinley Elementary; $540,000 for safety and security remodeling at North Plains Elementary; $8.84 million for a classroom addition and new gymnasium at Perkett Elementary; $300,000 for safety and security remodeling at Roosevelt Elementary; $225,000 for safety and security remodeling at Sunnyside Elementary; $350,000 for safety and security remodeling at Washington Elementary; $25,000 for additional security cameras at Erik Ramstad Middle School; $350,000 for safety and security remodeling at Jim Hill Middle School; $350,000 for safety and security remodeling at Memorial Middle School; $225,000 for a security camera upgrade at Minot High School – Central Campus; $225,000 for a security camera upgrade at Minot High School-Magic City Campus; $18 million for construction of the new elementary school.

In addition, “soft costs” such as professional fees, contingencies, site survey, testing and permits is estimated at $5.7 million. “Owner costs” including bond costs, furniture, fixtures, equipment, legal fees, builders risk insurance and miscellaneous owner expenses is estimated at $1 million.

The total costs, including construction costs, soft costs and owner costs is estimated at $40.5 million.

The district would pay for the project with a $20 million school construction loan from the state at 1.72 percent interest and by sale of $19.5 million in general obligation bonds. The district will also use a $222,000 state safety and security grant, which requires matching local funds to a total of $444,000 and by taking $592,000 from the district’s reserve fund. Business manager Scott Moum said the district would save $4.2 million over the 20 year life of the low interest loan, which the district must accept by May. The remainder would come from a $222,000 state safety and security grant, with $222,000 in matching funds provided locally, and $592,000 from the school district’s interim fund. Safety and security upgrades include additional security cameras and secure entry systems in some cases.

Taxes would go up $128.83 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home and $185.75 per year for the owner of a $300,000 home.

Superintendent Mark Vollmer said the bond issue is needed due to the ongoing growth in the district. Enrollment has increased by about 1,400 kids in the last seven years and all indications are that the enrollment will remain high. Vollmer said there are more than 700 children enrolled in two of the primary grade classes and nearly 700 in a third. The district has seen a growth rate of about 3 to 3.5 percent per year.

That kind of growth also suggests that, even if the bond issue is approved on April 8, the school district may ask voters to pass yet another bond issue in a few more years to address middle school growth and then a third to address growth at the high school level.

Vollmer also said the district will likely redraw attendance boundary lines to balance enrollment at district schools, something that will be hard to do when eight of the elementaries are at capacity.

If the bond issue passes, Vollmer said the district will be able to remove most of the portable classrooms in place at schools throughout the district and they will become the exception rather than the rule.

Vollmer said changes in educational requirements, such as full-day kindergarten and special education programs, as well as additional class offerings, means that schools require more space than they did in the early 1970s, when enrollment in the district was higher. Vollmer also said an equity study may recommend that school districts adopt even lower class sizes at the primary grade level, which would require additional classroom space.