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Voters to decide Pillager referendum Tuesday

Pillager graduates Steve Sandberg and his mother, Robin Sandberg, ate lunch at t1 / 4
Owner of the Northwoods Cafe in Pillager, Diedra Aitkin, said the referendum has2 / 4
Pillager School District resident Kevin Albertson will vote in the upcoming refe3 / 4
Paul Wickham commented on the upcoming Pillager referendum. Wickham has nieces a4 / 4

PILLAGER — The Pillager School District’s $13.9 million building referendum goes to the voters Tuesday. 

The Pillager School District hosted town hall meetings, sent out mailings, provided detailed information on a website, presided at community gatherings, called residents and offered guest speakers to attend meetings or visit area businesses. 

Now it’s up to the voters to decide. 

Thursday at the Northwoods Cafe here, cafe owner Diedra Aitkin said there has been a lot of talk about the approaching referendum vote. 

Aitkin said people have expressed views both for and against. 

“They’re concerned about taxes,” Aitkin said. 

She said the district made an effort to get information about the referendum out to residents. 

“I think they are doing really well at informing people,” Aitkin said. “I think the turnout for the vote will be big.”

There are about 2,800 voters in the district. 

Superintendent Chuck Arns said officials are cautiously optimistic about the vote. The voter’s decision should be known about a half hour after the polls close at 8 p.m., Arns said. 

The plan calls for a 60,000-square-foot secondary addition, which could house middle school or high school students, to the school’s west side. The proposal calls for 12 additional classrooms, a technology room, new band room, gymnasium with lockers and seating for 1,100 people, district office and expanded cafeteria seating. In addition, renovation of the existing school interior would increase the media center and add an activity room to the early childhood building.

The school district reported the need for the addition is coming from a growing student body. There are 72 kindergartners now in the district, 78 four-year-olds, 81 three-year-olds and 100 two-year-olds, the district reported. With the number of children in the district going up, Arns said the challenge is to keep class sizes small and, at the present rate, the district will increase to 900 students by 2012. 

Kevin Albertson grew up in Brainerd before moving to Pillager 10 years ago. He said it’s a small town with a lot of good people. He has a 5-year-old son at home.

“I hope it passes,” Albertson said of the referendum. “Kids need education. That’s the biggest thing.” 

Albertson said taxes will go up, but he said the increase is for a good cause and it will be better for the community. 

Paul Wickham, Motley, has nieces and nephews attending school in Pillager.

“It’s good for the district,” Wickham said of the referendum. “I definitely like the school.”

Inside the cafe, Sharon and Steve Sandberg were having lunch with their mothers, Miriam Carlson and Robin Sandberg, and friends. The couple grew up in Pillager. Recently retired, they moved back to be close to family. They said the school district meetings provided a lot of information on the referendum, which they support. 

“It’s an excellent school district,” Sharon Sandberg said. She graduated from Pillager High School in 1967. Her three siblings also graduated from Pillager. 

“We turned out well,” Sandberg joked with her mom. 

Robin Sandberg, who will be 86 this summer, graduated from Pillager as did her three children. 

“The children got a good education,” she said of her family. “I think the next generation needs it.”

Pillager’s growth pattern for its elementary school began in 2005. Overall, student growth has averaged 3 percent annually, or 24 children, the size of a classroom. For the 2010-2011 school year, the enrollment increase was 7 percent — or 55 students — to raise the district’s total to 851 students. The district employs 65 teachers and reported it needs to add at least two teachers next year. If the referendum passes, construction could start in the fall of 2011 and is proposed for completion in the fall of 2012.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.