Residents had their first chance Tuesday, Jan. 15, to learn more about the Pine River-Backus School District bond referendum where voters will determine May 14 whether the district can issue up to $15.295 million in bonds to fund projects.
Mike Schellin and Kelly Martinez, of Kodet Architectural Group LTD, gave a presentation on the four construction projects that would be included on the bond, and two additional projects that would be paid for with existing funds. Throughout the presentation they welcomed questions.
Career technology education addition and remodeling: $1.94 million
A career technology education addition was the most popular project, according to the Morris Leatherman Company telephone survey conducted last fall. The new space was designed with a growing trend of increasing career technical training in school, and graduating students with career readiness in specific courses. The space not only expands the facility, but makes necessary updates for safety and expanding technology.
The new facility would nearly double the size of the woodworking and metal shop rooms, in addition to creating a new career tech lab room. By sharing space with the multi-purpose performance addition, the shop space would be even larger because that addition includes a shop behind the stage.
Multi-purpose performance addition: $11.06 million
A new auditorium or multi-purpose performance space was developed to meet inadequacies in the current facilities, which don't have proper lighting or acoustics. Performances currently share space with athletics in the high school gymnasium, which causes issues with scheduling as well. The new facility would relocate the band and choir rooms, which are in different sections of the building and in need of updates.
The existing band and choir rooms would be renovated into additional classroom space. Those two rooms could be turned into up to four classrooms.
The addition would include a large auditorium with appropriate acoustics and lighting, new rooms for choir and band, a shared shop space with the career tech classrooms, new bathroom space including accessible family-friendly facilities, a ticket booth and concessions.
During performances, the space could be isolated from the rest of the school to allow audience members access to the auditorium without allowing them to roam the halls of the school. The addition comes with plans to add 40-50 parking spaces to accommodate the needs of the auditorium and athletic crowds in the commons gym.
Jennifer Anderson, director of the annual high school musical, asked about the absence of an orchestra pit. Schellin said the design was based on a similar auditorium at the Hmong College Prep Academy. The orchestra would be in front of the stage to one side. Schellin assured Anderson that the design is effective.
Pastor Jacob Burkman of First Lutheran Church asked about lighting. PR-B School District Business Manager Jolene Bengtson said the specific lights would be chosen at a later date. Schellin said the specific materials would be chosen as the plans develop with the help of community members and staff.
High school gym: $1.24 million
The high school gym would be the focus of general renovation efforts for the floor, ceiling treatment and lighting. Renovations would update the school logo and bleachers to make them compliant.
School board member Dawn Rubner asked if the bleachers would still be on both sides of the gymnasium. Schellin said yes. Martinez said the space on either side of the stage would be converted for storage purposes.
Football and track support facilities: $533,000
New facilities on the track and football field would include permanent restroom facilities, updated storage and concessions. A new set of entry gates are in the design proposal. The storage is designed to provide easy access to equipment, especially for the track and field.
Superintendent Dave Endicott said the school's current equipment and storage situation prevents the school district from hosting track meets.
Jennifer Volk asked if the school district already had the track and field equipment that needs storage space. Bengtson said the district already has most of the equipment and it is stored in several places throughout the school property, with no additional storage space. The district has, however, put off purchasing additional equipment due to lack of storage.
The concept also includes new entry gates with a gateway arch.
A new bus storage facility would be paid for using existing funds, not bonds, but those details were also presented during the information meeting. Currently the district is short on indoor storage for four school buses. The new building would have space for six buses. This storage space is on the same side of the road as the school.
High school media center renovation
Media center renovations also would be paid for separate from the bond referendum.
The media center project is designed to bring the high school up to speed with the needs and trends of today's students. Due to the portability of computers and tablets, students do not need as many computers in a library to do their homework.
As a result, the new design features fewer computers and more meeting space for small group activities and private study. The renovation keeps 98 percent of the current shelf space but adds two small conference rooms, one office and a storage room, and modular but comfortable furniture.
The new design includes large windows into the hallway. Roger Hoplin Jr. asked if the large windows were wise in relation to school safety issues. Schellin said they were working to adapt the plan so that windows were not necessarily bulletproof, but very strong to prevent easy access to the rooms.
He also said the architect is including designs with consideration to hiding places. The ultimate design might also have fewer windows than the concept drawing.
Bengtson described the financial circumstances leading up to the projects. Bengtson said the items on the bond referendum are projects that have been accumulating for many years on the district's wish list. The projects are large enough that the district has been unable to pay for the projects in whole using the regular budget.
Resident and business owner Chris Hanneken said he noticed the school district operates with a fairly low debt load compared to other districts. He said the district seems like it might be trending the wrong way now, as the proposed bond referendum would become the fourth one on the district's current debt load. Hanneken asked if there was any indication that the district might try for another bond referendum in the near future.
Bengtson said there are still small items on the school district's wish list such as roof work, but those items were small enough that the district could likely pay for them using funds on hand. In addition, one of the district's bonds is maturing in five years.
Schellin presented a timeline of the "pre-referendum services:" A second public information session will be held Thursday, Feb. 7, with a submission of plans to the Minnesota Department of Education for review Wednesday, Feb. 13; another public session Tuesday, March 5; response from the Department of Education; and one final public information session Thursday, April 18.
Before the May 14 vote, there will be a school board meeting in April to discuss the Department of Education reviews.
Schellin said the designs would go to contractors for an open bid in approximately January or February 2020. Construction would begin approximately in April 2020 and wrap up in October 2021.
Olivia Anderson asked how students would be able to work around the construction project during the school year. Schellin said the variety of projects would allow contractors to schedule around active classroom time and avoid disruption. Some work could be completed quickly in the summer and during breaks, while other work would be saved for winter.
John Wetrosky asked how many contractors would be on the job. Schellin said there would be one general contractor who would be in charge of finding subcontractors. Rubner asked if the project would use local subcontractors.
Schellin said an open bidding process does not allow the school district to control who wins the bid; however, Kodet promotes heavily to local contractors. Scope, manpower and scheduling would determine whether the project attracts local contractors with competitive bids.
Wetrosky asked how accurate the estimates should be. Schellin said Kodet prides itself on accurate estimates. Endicott said the updated entryway project by Kodet came in almost exactly on budget. Schellin said they track material and labor costs carefully and include padding for big changes.
Information on the project, including projected tax impact, Morris Leatherman survey results, concept art and the PowerPoint presentation from the Jan. 15 meeting can be found at https://sites.google.com/prbschools.org/buildings/home.