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District 518 tax, review and comment meetings slated for next Tuesday

WORTHINGTON — District 518 will host two public hearings and comment opportunities next Tuesday around the time of its regular school board meeting.

The meetings, which the district is required to host, will include a 5:30 p.m. public input session on its review-and-comment document submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education for the upcoming referendum. The district will also conduct a 6 p.m. truth-in-taxation meeting that evening before approving the 2018 levy.

Both meetings, as well as the 5:15 p.m. regularly scheduled school board meeting, will take place in the WHS multimedia room.

The school board’s instructional and operations committees met earlier this week, at which time brainstorming and discussion related to how to best address a growing enrollment continued. While it’s still unknown if the proposed referendum for a new high school will get voter approval, administration has said the district still needs to determine how to alleviate the space constraints.

“We cannot continue to just add kids in classrooms. We can only do that so long,” said board member Linden Olson.

During Tuesday’s instructional committee meeting, Superintendent John Landgaard handed out an updated document that included potential short- and long-term solutions.

“Quite honestly, I can tell you that I don’t like any of these,” Landgaard said. “I don’t think we’re in the business of taking opportunities away from kids.”  

Of more than 10 itemized short-term solutions and a handful of long-term solutions, Landgaard brought the committee's attention to a few options that, in his opinion, the district could best adopt while having the least potential negative impact on students’ educational opportunities.

Of three short-term options, adding modular buildings at an estimated cost of $650,000 to $750,000 seemed most feasible, he said.

The biggest issue with modulars, Landgaard cautioned, is that districts often add them with the intent to be short-term solutions, but end up being utilized in long-term capacities. Another downside, he added, is that the modular classrooms have the same requirements as other classrooms within a building, including being Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and having fire sprinklers, restrooms and heating.

“You have to have all the infrastructure of a separate building,” Landgaard said. School board member Linden Olson, meanwhile, said adding modulars would just add to an existing problem.

It seems that adopting a year-round schedule for a long-term solution would be most feasible, Landgaard said. The year-round structure would have a quarter of the student population off for three months at a time.

Landgaard said while it could work, there are potential drawbacks, including splitting the classes and being a scheduling issue for parents.

“You might have your elementary student on a different schedule than your middle school or high school student and that just complicates things,” he provided as an example. “We already have daycare issues in our community the way it is — like all nearby communities — but we just compound the problem by (going to a year-round schedule).”

The proposed solutions will likely further be discussed during Tuesday’s full board meeting.

The operations committee also met earlier this week and heard an update on the ALC/Gymnastics facility on the west end of town.

Landgaard said the architect is putting on the finishing touches and will be opening the bidding process for contractors this week. The deadline to receive bids is Jan. 18, he said.

Landgaard said the initial pre-construction begins on the new approximately 45,000-square-foot facility has gone well. The cost of the facility has increased slightly, he added.

“The cost is slightly higher because we’ve added square footage from when we received the initial estimate,” he told the operations committee members. Throughout the design process, approximately 5,000 additional square feet have been added.

One of the changes that added more square footage was the board’s unanimous decision in July to design a full-sized competitive gymnasium, rather than the half-sized gym that was initially planned.

Board member Steve Schnieder also provided an update on preliminary planning that he and the city are working on with regard to getting necessary infrastructure to the site.

The operations committee also considered whether to enter a memorandum of understanding with South Shore Care Center and Crossroads Care Center in Worthington. The care centers recently reached out to the district after reorganizing its emergency evacuation plans as a result of a recent change in ownership, said District 518 Director of Management Services David Skog.

Skog said the district’s high school was already listed as an evacuation site in the care center’s crisis plan, but the facilities could potentially also look toward Prairie Elementary, as that school is closer to their South Shore facility and the only school with a generator.

“Depending on the reason for evacuating, we could be in the same kind of situation they are, so we just have to kind of work out the details,” Skog said.

He said no formal plan has been presented, and he doubts there will be anything ready for the board to review during its regular meeting next week.

Board treasurer Brad Shaffer also cautioned that the district needs to consider what liabilities they would have, if any.

“We certainly want to be community-minded and helpful in that fashion, but we don’t want to expose ourselves to any undue liabilities,” he said.   

The operations committee also reviewed bids on tillable district farmland. The bids, which ranged from $151 to $217 per acre, are for the district’s farmland on the west edge of town.

The land, which the district purchased  for the ALC/Gymnastics facility and with the potential for other future construction projects, has about 111 tillable acres, Skog said.

The district received $301 per acre during this season.

The operations committee recommended for full board approval the highest bid at $217.

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