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Voters approve $438M in school projects

Overcrowded schools in the Waconia school district are about to get some relief with help from district taxpayers.

The Waconia district was among the big winners at the polls Tuesday, getting voter approval for a $75 million bond referendum that will pay for a new elementary school, conversion of a middle school to a high school, athletic fields and more.

“We are at the point where we are over capacity in every building,” said Patrick Devine, superintendent of the Waconia district, which serves Waconia, St. Bonifacius, Minnetrista and New Germany. “The community sees that. We need to do something.”

In general, school construction projects fared well at the polls Tuesday, as voters approved more than $438 million worth of spending for everything from new elementary schools to athletic fields.

As reported by Finance & Commerce last week, school districts sought more than $460 million in bond referendums, based on numbers from the Minnesota School Boards Association. In fact, about $500 million in total requests were on the ballot.

Voters said “yes” to 70 percent of the bond referendum questions, including a $98.03 million question in the Elk River district and the $75 million initiative in Waconia.

Not all of the big referendums in the extended metro area got the green light. Across the river in Hudson, Wisconsin, voters rejected a $100 million referendum for a new high school and improvements to an existing building.

In Minnesota, about $63 million worth of bond referendums failed, including an $18.4 million proposal for elementary school additions in the Mora district and $14.63 million for a variety of projects in the New London-Spicer district.

Greg Abbott, a spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said bond referendums tend to fare better in “odd” election years, when they’re not overshadowed by elections for president, the U.S. Senate and governor.

Though the senate and governor races grabbed most of the headlines, school districts still managed to win approval for 21 of 30 questions on the ballot for capital improvements.

In Waconia, the building projects could begin as soon as next spring. They will relieve crowding in a district that has been adding about 120 students every year, according to Devine.

One of the first orders of business for Waconia is to hire a construction team for the new elementary school, which will be on Airport Road south of Highway 5 on the east side of Waconia.

Devine said the district will soon request proposals from contractors and architects. The goal is to have designs ready by the end of March, start construction later in the spring, and open the new school in fall 2016, Devine said.

The district also plans to expand the Clearwater Middle School, 1650 Community Drive, Waconia, and convert it to a high school. The existing high school, in turn, will become a middle school.

The new high school will have room for growth.

“Most of the addition is going to be on the back side of our current middle school, so we should be able to operate our current middle school without a big disruption,” Devine said.

Waconia’s referendum will also enable the district to improve building systems, upgrade security, build seven or eight new athletic fields, address deferred maintenance, acquire land and refinance existing debt.

The Elk River school district is planning a classroom wing and auditorium at Rogers High School, at 21000 141st Ave. in Rogers, a new E-8 school on district-owned land in Otsego, and other improvements.

The Elk River district expects to sell its bonds in December or January, according to Charlie Blesener, the district’s communications director. The first project will be a third classroom wing at Rogers High School.

“We are looking at potential bid documents hitting the streets this spring, March of 2015, perhaps,” he said.

The Elk River district is working with St. Paul-based Wold Architects and Engineers.

Tony Sjolander, a school bond referendum consultant with DLR Group in Minneapolis, said there has been a lot of pent-up demand for K-12 projects.

“I think we are going to see more and more of this because the pent-up demand is still out there,” he said. “Buildings are continuing to age and we are also seeing a lot of energy-efficiency projects and so forth. Operational costs are significant.”

Other large bond questions approved Tuesday include:

  • $43.045 million for the Sibley East district for a new elementary school and building additions.
  • $39.815 million for the Bemidji Area Schools for a new elementary school and HVAC improvements at the middle school.
  • $38.165 million for Rushford-Peterson for a new school for students from preschool through 12th grade.
  • $34.7 million for Moose Lake for a new building for preschool through 12th grade.

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