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SV seeks funds for new elementary on April ballot

Tables at the Spring Valley Middle/High School library/media center were filled with visitors wanting to learn more about the district's plans for an elementary school referendum Monday, Feb. 25.

The district held an information session, which included members from the school board, Superintendent Dr. Donald Haack, Randy LaFaive of Market Johnson, and Dale Poynter of SDS.

The referendum

The referendum process started before March 2017 with facility studies, Haack said. The district began working with Market and Johnson and SDS Architects in March 2017 to address problems with the current elementary school, located downtown at 200 Sabin Ave.

Options included remodeling and updating the current building, building a new building near the middle/high school (located at S1450 County Road CC), or building in an alternate location.

The district sent out a community survey last fall to gauge taxpayers' wishes. What the community wants, Haack said, is a new elementary building near the middle/high school building. That would also include a larger gymnasium space at the new building. The softball field would be relocated.

The district will have a referendum question on the April 2 ballot, requesting funds not to exceed $22.8 million to build the new elementary school, tear down the existing one, and move the district softball field.

Questions

When asked if Crystal Cave (which is located near the middle/high school) was a concern, Poynter said SDS knows how to work with the geology of the area. He said further tests to ensure safe construction are also included in the budget. As the new elementary is set to go on the same campus as the middle/high school, if the referendum passes, Poynter said there are fewer concerns about not disturbing wildlife, such as bats, related to Crystal Cave.

The audience also questioned the referendum's tax impact.

Haack said if passed, the district's tax impact would increase by 1.7 mils, which equates to a $170 per year increase for a $100,000 property valuation.

Construction would start in Spring 2020, with the building opening in 2021. The district would begin the planning process as soon as the referendum is passed.

One audience member asked Haack if there would be any money left over from the previous operating/maintenance referendum—which included some funds for improvements to the current elementary building—and if that money could offset some of the $22.8 million price tag estimate for the new referendum.

Haack said the district has intentionally done very few things at the current elementary building.

"It is possible we will have some money left over," Haack said. "We may not have to spend all of that, and if we don't, then we won't."

Haack was also asked if the land currently occupied by the elementary school will be reclaimed and sold after the building is taken down.

Haack confirmed that reclamation is included in the cost estimate used to create the referendum question. Haack said Market and Johnson and SDS estimated the land at the current elementary site could be worth $40,000.

One person voiced a wish to vote on keeping the elementary building in town.

Haack reminded those at the meeting that the district has set out from the beginning to give the community what it wants for the elementary building. The decision to go with a new building was based on strong support for that option, from the community survey.

Another person asked if the current middle/high school building has foundation problems, and was informed it does not.

Another resident wondered if the district would maintain the gym at the current elementary building. Again, Haack said the survey results did not support that option, and it would actually cost the district much more money to maintain a gymnasium at the current location in addition to one in a new elementary facility.

Haack added the district expects to continue maintaining about the same number of students it has had for the last 20 years, but the building will have some room to grow, in case it's needed.

One visitor voiced concern that a tax increase might reduce property values.

Another visitor voiced the opposite option, saying a new school could bring families in from other districts.

When asked about operating costs, Haack said the new construction is not expected to significantly affect the district's operating costs. Newer systems, such as the HVAC system will be more efficient ats well, Haack and LaVaive said. Also, the school district has created a fund specifically for school maintenance needs, should they arise.

Haack and Poynter said cost saving opportunities would present themselves if the elementary and middle/high school are on the same campus. For example, Poynter said though the elementary would have its own kitchen, it would likely be a smaller one, and it's likely a lot of food could be easily made at the middle/high school and carted over to the elementary building.

Haack, Poynter and LaFaive also noted, in response to questions, that there would be standard warranties on construction, and in addition to that, Market Johnson would do an 11-month warranty check, walking through the entire facility to ensure everything is working properly. This does not mean the warranty would end at 11 months, LaFaive said; rather it is a service provided to make sure everything is in order. Warranties would stay in place.

If the referendum question is not approved, Haack said the district would do its best to keep everything running efficiently.

Next step

A second information session is scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 19, at the middle/high school. Meanwhile, anyone seeking more information can contact the district at 715-778-5551.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(651) 301-7849