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Brainerd School Board: Referendum gets green light

Dave Bergeron (left) and Kevin Wormuth, associates with Innovation, Collaboration, Sustain Inc., consult the board on the "Review and Comment" document to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd School District referendum is getting the official green light.

The ballot questions will be posed to voters, who will decide the future of the district's facilities between 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., April 10. Early voting begins Feb. 23.

Brainerd School Board members voted unanimously Monday to approve two resolutions—first, to call the election and approve the questions to be presented to the public; and second, to approve the funding strategies entailed in the levy.

Board member Bob Nystrom noted while it's only now that the district is officially embarking on the referendum, the process has been a long one, representative of the communal efforts of many district staff, elected representatives and private consultants during that time.

"I just like to remind the public: We're voting on the final product, but it started four years ago and a lot of time and effort has gone into this, and I'd just like to thank the people who put their time into this," Nystrom said, adding the meeting had a palpable sense of excitement and expectation to it.

The referendum is complex, even in the eyes of seasoned experts in project development and municipal finance. It will be presented in three questions (the third being contingent on the second, yet both are separate from the first) and is built around multiple forms of funding, involving 14 facilities and worth as much as $204 million.

Joel Sutter, the vice president of Ehlers Inc., a municipal financial consultant firm and a man who Business Services Director Steve Lund said has seen "hundreds of these projects," noted the referendum may be one of the most complex, if not the most complex, building programs he's observed in his career. During the meeting, similar sentiments were shared by Lund, Superintendent Laine Larson, Dave Bergeron and Kevin Wormuth, consultants from Innovation, Collaboration, Sustain Inc., as well as members of the board—a virtual panel of administrators, representatives and consultants, drawing upon experiences in both the private and public sectors.

The complexity of the referendum was reflected in the length of the ballot questions, Larson said, while the board was reviewing the finalized documents.

"We tried to make them way more condensed and again, because everything is so extensive and so detailed, to make sure that we were being very clear with the public when we go to the booth about what our plan was," Larson said. "They are longer than we hoped they would be, but they are the best documents I believe we could develop."

The board also approved to send a document called a "Review and Comment"—essentially a 55-page letter providing a condensed summary of the proposed referendum—to the Minnesota Department of Education and Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, for their assessment of the initiatives proposed in the referendum voters will decide on April 10. The letter is due by Jan. 15.

Breaking down the numbers

This spring, the public will consider three ballot questions involving improvements to all the elementary and secondary school buildings and the addition of a performing arts center, for an estimated total cost of $204 million. Voters will not have to pay the entire amount. The voter-approved portion would be $145.8 million, if approved.

The three ballot questions broken down will be:

• Question 1: Investing in the elementary school buildings and Early Childhood Family Education program for a total cost of $104 million; voter-approved cost is $68.4 million.

• Question 2: Investing in the secondary buildings for a total cost of $93 million; voter-approved cost is $69.4 million.

• Question 3: Investing in a performing arts center for a total cost of $8 million, which would be fully supported by voter-approved dollars.

The third question is contingent on the second question passing; meaning if Question 2 fails, so does the third.

Question 1

The $104 million breakdown:

• New Baxter Elementary School: $26 million.

• Baxter Early Childhood Hub: $5 million. (The hub would serve as the main location for early childhood offices and classrooms.)

• Garfield Elementary School: $11 million.

• Harrison Elementary School: $19 million.

• Lowell Elementary School: $13 million.

• Nisswa Elementary School: $12 million.

• Riverside Elementary School: $13 million.

• Renew Washington Educational Services Building: $5 million.

Question 2

The $93 million breakdown:

• Brainerd High School—South Campus: $11 million.

• Brainerd High School—North Campus: $79 million.

• Forestview Middle School: $1.5 million.

• Brainerd Learning Center: $1 million.

• Lincoln Education Center demolition: $500,000.

Question 3

• $8 million for an improved performing arts center at BHS, going from a 950-seat arts center to 1,200 seats.

The tax impact of the three ballot questions for a current median home value of $156,200 in Crow Wing County is $36 per year for Question 1, $39 per year for Question 2 and $12 per year for Question 3—for a total of $87 a year, or about $7.25 per month. This would be the tax increase from taxes payable in 2018 to taxes payable in 2019.

The tax impact for a current median commercial property value of $219,900 in Crow Wing County is $99 per year for Question 1, $106 per year for Question 2 and $33 per year for Question 3—for a total of $238 per year.

According to the district, if the building plan is approved, the debt would be paid off at the end of 2042. The existing debt the school has would be paid off in 2030.

The board also approved the precincts and polling places for the upcoming 2018 school district election. By law, the board may establish a combined polling place for several precincts for school district elections not on the day of a statewide election. Each combined polling place must be a polling place designated by a county or municipality.

Combined polling places for the April 10 vote

• Baxter 1, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, 6190 Fairview Road, Baxter, for residents in Baxter's Precinct 1 East and West.

• Baxter 2, Heritage Assembly of God, 13242 Berrywood Drive, Baxter, Baxter's Precinct 2 East and West.

• Brainerd Ward 1, Trinity Lutheran Church, 1420 S. Sixth St., Brainerd, Ward 1, Precinct 1 and 2.

• Brainerd Ward 2, Riverside Elementary School, 220 NW Third St., Brainerd, Brainerd Ward 2 Precinct 1 and 2.

• Brainerd Ward 3, Lowell Elementary School, 704 NE Third Ave., Brainerd, Brainerd Ward 3 Precinct 1, 2 and 3.

• Brainerd Ward 4, Harrison Elementary School, 1515 Oak St., Brainerd, Brainerd Ward 4 Precinct 1 and 2.

• Fort Ripley city and township and Crow Wing Township, Crow Wing Town Hall, 10069 South Oaks Road, Brainerd.

• Garrison city and township and Maple Grove Township, Garrison Town Hall, 10701 Bollenbacher Road, Garrison.

• Nisswa, Lake Shore and Home Brook Township in Cass County, Nisswa City Hall, 5442 City Hall St., Nisswa.

• Bay Lake, Nokay Lake and Oak Lawn townships, Oak Lawn Town Hall, 12404 Highway 18, Brainerd.

• Center and Lake Edward townships, Lake Edward Town Hall, 23977 County Highway 4, Nisswa.

• Daggett Brook, Long Lake, Roosevelt and Platte Lake townships, Daggett Brook Town Hall, 14074 County Highway 2, Brainerd.

• St. Mathias, Morrison County's Platte and Lake townships, St. Mathias Community Center, 4548 County Road 121, Brainerd, which includes Unorganized Territory.

• Unorganized (Red and White), East Gull Lake in Cass County, Living Word North Church, 16314 Highway 371, Brainerd.

• Unorganized (Blue), The Church on the Wise Road, 10345 Wise Road, Brainerd.

The polling places will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Lund, said he was open to any questions or comments by the public. He can be reached at 218-454-6905 or steven.lund@isd181.org.

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