USC seeks grant for new school
Whether it was the more than 60 in attendance or the possibility of receiving a grant, United South Central School Board members changed their minds at a special meeting held Tuesday night.
The board unanimously passed Jon Feist’s motion to rescind an Aug. 16 vote to go forward with a remodel/addition plan estimated around $16 million.
Instead, district officials will now work to secure a cooperative facilities grant of up to $20 million to build a new facility designed for 750 students in grades K-12.
Why the sudden shift in plans?
It was a news item that appeared in a recent School Board Association newsletter.
The article pointed out that the Rushford-Peterson School District is planning to ask the Legislature for a grant to fund a new school.
That caught the attention of USC officials.
“We thought, ‘What’s the deal with that,'” says Superintendent Jerry Jensen.
Board member Christie Wetzel looked into it further.
Wetzel says she has been working and talking with District 24B Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, regarding the grant that’s available to consolidated schools.
“We’re silly not to go after a grant. I was told not to get our hopes up, but our chances are good,” says Wetzel.
Jensen agrees with Wetzel, saying all potential funding sources must be explored.
“It’s a long shot. If there’s a possibility, we owe it to our taxpayers to try,” Jensen says.
Several board members told the crowd that hearing about the grant convinced them to reconsider the new building option.
“The grant does make it more attractive and much easier to explain to others with views that aren’t here tonight,” says Kathy Krebsbach, board chair.
Jensen provided updated costs figures for both plans.
Extra costs such as upgrading plumbing, heating and ventilation systems; a new track and bus garage; and resurfacing the tennis court puts the remodeling plan at closer to $20 million.
The new school plan jumps to around $28 million when you add costs for a boiler system, a mezzanine for the auditorium to add about 150 seats and an athletic complex.
The next step will be to send blueprints of the proposed project to the State Department of Education for review and comment. That process is expected to take up to 90 days.
The board’s latest decision puts a referendum vote on hold.
“I’m not in favor of taking a vote until we know how much money we are getting,” says board member Sharon Parriott.
Others on the board agreed with Parriott.
The cooperative facilities grant pays 75 percent of a new facility up to $20 million or up to $10 million for remodeling.
Of those in the audience, four people spoke on why they favor a new building.
Wrestling coach Marcus Eytcheson says because he works in the construction business, he knows remodeling costs can increase due to unexpected problems.
“Remodeling is getting close to the cost of a new school. In a few years down the road you might have to do another band-aid repair,” he says.
Building a new school, says Eytcheson, would be for future generations of students and something the community could be proud of.
“I’ll do anything I can to try and help the school get it (referendum) passed,” he adds.
Brad Heggen told the board they are being “short-sighted” in choosing the remodeling plan.
Heggen believes constructing a new facility is the most cost-effective option.
He cited figures to show landowners in the district would pay their fair share to build a school.
Heggen says there are many positives associated with the new construction plan and thinks a referendum would pass.
“You are giving up on our communities too soon. Give us a chance to show you,” he says. “We would regret a remodel, our kids deserve better.”
Gary Hagen told the board that remodeling the current facilities is like spending $19,000 to fix up a 1957 car that has been totaled, it still leaves the owner with an old car.
“The voters of the district have a chance to send a positive message to the future students of the district,” he says. “You do have the power to put a new school option on the ballot. I hope you find it in your hearts and minds to do so. “
Kristy Neubauer says a petition being circulated has the names of more than 400 people who want a new school.
“It took just three days to get those signatures,” she says. “I think the board needs to reach out more, to see what people want.”
Wetzel says the district probably will not know until the end of May or June whether they will receive a grant and, if so, for how much.
She says voters in the school district also must approve a referendum to receive the funds.