Staples-Motley takes another stab at bond referendum with April 13 vote

The $64.4 million referendum would allow for building renovations and equipment updates at both the elementary and middle/high school.

David Leapaldt, a principal at JLG Architects, shows plans for school updates if the Staples-Motley School District's referendum passes in April. Voters gathered information on the measure during an open house at the middle/high school Wednesday, Feb. 24. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

STAPLES — Building renovations and equipment updates are again on the ballot for voters in the Staples-Motley School District.

Early voting is now open for the roughly $64.4 million referendum seeking funds to update school facilities. The vote comes two years after a failed $60 million referendum in spring 2019 that would have approved funds for building upgrades and a new activities center.

Voters reviewed information and renderings of what the buildings could look like if the new referendum were to pass during an information session Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Staples-Motley Middle/High School.

In the referendum

The one-question referendum asks for money for the following projects:

  • Efficiency updates to existing mechanical systems and heating, ventilation, cooling and air quality systems.

  • Expanded career and technical education spaces for agriculture, metals, woods and technology/engineering.

  • A build yard for outdoor construction projects.

  • A culinary arts lab addition as a shared space with the kitchen to support programs like Farm to School.

  • Expanded orchestra, choir, band and practice rooms near the auditorium, which will receive accessibility, acoustic and audio system upgrades.

  • Improved safety and security measures.

  • Updated building configurations that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

  • Improved technology infrastructure, including better wireless coverage and dedicated low-voltage device charging outlets.

  • Larger classrooms and collaborative spaces for one-on-one and small-group work.

  • Replacement of outdated roofing, windows, doors and other building structures, resulting in improved energy efficiencies.

District officials estimate a savings of about $324,000 a year in operation costs with these improvements.
Under the plan, additions would be constructed at both buildings.


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Right now, Staples-Motley Elementary School houses grades kindergarten through fourth grade, but it would transition to early childhood through sixth grade if the referendum passes.

When the 2019 measure failed, the middle school students who were housed at the building in Motley moved to the high school to cut costs, and the Motley building was used for early childhood education. But only 30% of that building is used right now, so if the referendum passes, those students will move to the elementary school and the Motley building will be sold. The district will give Lakewood Health System the first opportunity.

Elementary school

The elementary school opened in 1966 and had renovations and additions in 1996.

If the referendum passes, the school would get a large addition on the west side with a new gym and classrooms for the fifth and sixth graders moving over to the building. The gym area could be closed off from the rest of the school during tournaments or other events.

A new wing on the north side of the building would house third and fourth graders, while a small addition on the southeast side would be for the early childhood students moving over from the Motley building.

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The former gym would be turned into a cafeteria, and the serving kitchen would be turned into a full-sized kitchen. Because the kitchen is only a serving kitchen, food comes in from elsewhere, and David Leapaldt, principal at JLG Architects, said sometimes kids complain about it not being hot by the time they get it.

Right now there are three to three and a half sections in each elementary grade level. All the wings — which are split into first and second, third and fourth, and fifth and sixth — would have seven classrooms to allow for collaborative space and for extra classroom space in the event of a larger than expected class coming through.


A rendering, courtesy of JLG Architects shows what the new cafeteria would look like at Staples-Motley Elementary School if the district's referendum passes in April.

Middle and high school

The middle and high school building first opened in 1935 and had various renovations and additions in 1950, 1960, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1985, 1987 and 1991.

If the referendum passes, the oldest portion of the high school building on the west side will be demolished. Leapaldt said that part of the building has the highest maintenance and repair costs, so taking that down will save the district money.

Demolition will also allow for natural light in the classrooms — many of which Leapaldt said do not have windows at all — and more parking near a new secure entrance.

An addition would take shape on the east side of the building just north of the auditorium and will serve as band, choir, orchestra and collaborative space. This placement, Leapaldt said, would allow for easier movement of equipment into the auditorium for performances.

RELATED: Staples-Motley School District proposes $60 million referendum: Election day is May 14
Improvements to the career and technical education rooms would include collaborative space that would allow for employers and manufacturers to come in and set up presentations for students.

The gym would be converted into a cafeteria, with some of the existing cafeteria space being turned into administrative space. There will also be a performance gym, and addition on the south end of the building will add a second gym, wrestling room, fitness room and flexible community education space.


The areas with the gym spaces and the auditorium would be able to be closed off from the rest of the school for events after hours.

Renderings, courtesy of JLG Architects, shows wat the main entrance and media center would look like at Staples-Motley Middle and High School if the district's referendum passes in April.

Plan B

The school board already approved a $14.5 million backup plan if the referendum were to fail. Plan B does not require voter approval but will garner funds for some of the most-needed updates like the heating, ventilation and cooling systems; exterior repairs to roofs, doors, windows, etc.; asbestos removal; flooring replacements; Americans with Disabilities Act compliance; and an addition to the elementary school gym.

Plan B will not address safety and security, educational space improvements, career and technical education expansions and upgrades, collaborative spaces, or operational and staff efficiency improvements.

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“Really the biggest thing that it means is that we’re going to have ongoing additional board-approved projects as we move forward,” Superintendent Shane Tappe said of Plan B. “Plan B is not going to address all of our issues. We’ll still have those issues that need to be addressed. Down the road there might be a Plan C, a Plan D to address those ongoing concerns.”

But the backup plan would still raise property taxes, though not as much as the referendum would.

Tax impact

If the referendum passes, taxpayers will see the following estimated increases in their property taxes for the next 25 years:


  • $50,000 home — about $7 a month, or $86 a year.

  • $125,000 home — about $23.50 a month, or $282 a year.

  • $250,000 home — about $56 a month, $671 a year.

  • $500,000 home — about $119 a month, or $1,426 a year.

  • $50,000 commercial property — about $18, or $214 a year.

  • $250,000 commercial property — about $101 a month, or $1,212 a year.

  • $500,000 commercial property — about $458 a month, or $5,490 a year.

  • $50,000 seasonal recreation home — about $12 a month, or $143 a year.

  • $250,000 seasonal recreation home — about $59 a month, or $713 a year.

  • $500,000 seasonal recreation home — about $119 a month, or $1,426 a year.

The state’s Ag2School tax credit will pay for a portion of agricultural property owners’ share of the referendum. In 2022 — the first year the tax increase would take place — the Ag2School credit will provide a 60% tax credit for all agricultural property except the house, garage and 1 acre surrounding the agricultural homestead. The credit is scheduled to increase to 70% in 2023. An informational video on the Ag2School tax credit is available at .

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If the referendum fails and the district puts Plan B into action, property taxes on a $125,000 house would rise about $12.67 per month, or $152 a year. The Ag2School tax credit would not apply to Plan B, as it is not a voter-approved referendum.

Property owners can use the tax calculator at to calculate their specific tax impact.


District resident Gary Rosenthal stood at the door during the information session Wednesday with papers explaining some of his concerns, which center around the cost.

For those with a home valued at $125,000 — the median value in the district — taxes would increase by about $7,000 over the 25 years, which Rosenthal said is no small cost.

He worries about construction costs, too, as materials seem to have increased significantly recently. Brainerd Public Schools has dealt with this issue, recently approving a higher than expected contract for one of its building projects following the 2018 referendum because of increased material costs.

“We don’t have to do it right now, and it should be something that can be down the road,” Rosenthal said.
When asked about the necessity of the projects the referendum would fund, Rosenthal said he was interested in the $14.5 million Plan B but didn’t feel like he knew enough about it to form an opinion.


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“You can do a lot with $14.5 million, so what exactly is going to be improved in that?” he asked.

Another resident who stopped by Wednesday said she was seeing some good information and pieces of the project that she hadn’t realized were included.

When asked for their take, school board members Brad Anderson and Jeremy Reeck mentioned much-needed pieces of the project like accessibility updates in the gyms and the kitchen and cafeteria upgrades at the elementary school.

“I think one of the misconceptions, too, is that we’re adding on or expanding our buildings, and really part of what we’re trying to do is really right-size,” Anderson said. “... I think we’re at 75-80% of the square footage when we’re done, but the educational adequacy will be at such a higher level than it is currently.”

From a parent perspective, Reeck noted how the updates will likely attract more families to the district, as more and more are looking to move to more rural communities while being able to work remotely.

“If they have an opportunity to decide where they’re going to live, they’re going to look at the school,” Reeck said.

While a portion of this past school year has been spent in distance learning with the COVID-19 pandemic, district officials said if anything the pandemic has highlighted the importance of in-person instruction and properly equipped facilities.

Better than last time

Anderson was on the board two years ago when the last referendum failed and said this time around the projects are planned out much better. Last time, he said, there were several instances when the district pivoted and changed some of the plans, and communicating all those changes to the public was difficult and confusing.


Whether they support it or not, Anderson said he believes the public has all the necessary information this time around to make an informed decision.

Tappe said it’s important that voters understand there are two main parts of the referendum. First is a focus on the tools students need to be successful for lifelong learning, and second is the structural updates to the buildings.

Voting information

Early voting is open Feb. 26-April 12. Voters can request a ballot by downloading an application at , calling 218-894-5400 or emailing .

Ballot applications can be returned one of four ways:

  • Return a hard copy to the district office in person at 905 Fourth St. NE, Staples, MN 56479.

  • Return a hard copy to the district office by mail.

  • Fax the application to 218-894-1828.

  • Email the application to .

Once the application has been completed and returned, voters will be issued an early ballot, which can be requested by mail or to pick up at the district office.
Early ballots must be returned to the district office by April 13.

Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 13 for in-person voting. Polling stations are Motley City Hall, Staples Community Center and Scandia Valley Township Hall. Voters can visit to find out their polling location.

For more information on the referendum, visit , follow SMSD2170 on Facebook or @ISD2170 on Twitter, or call 218-894-5400.

For a list of answers to frequently asked questions, visit .

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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