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Windom schools give nod to May referendum

WINDOM — A new elementary school and expanded career and technical education (CTE) center may be in the future for Windom Area Schools.

Guided by more than three years of research through various focus groups and a recent survey of Independent School District 177 residents, the board of education will seek voter approval for a 20-year bonding proposal not to exceed $23.95 million to finance a new elementary school a CTE expansion and remodel.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. May 8 at the Windom Community Center. Absentee ballots will become available on March 23. District residents may pick them up at Windom Middle High School office, 1400 17th St.

The board officially called for the election during its Feb. 20 special meeting. That decision was not made without considerable discussion at a Feb. 5 special meeting between the board and project consultants.  

Preliminary scope of the project indicates that a new approximately $21.5 million elementary school — at 75,000 square feet — would house 520 students in grades kindergarten through five. Fourth- and fifth-grade students are currently at Windom Middle School due to insufficient space at Winfair to support that population. The recent survey of district residents indicate that Windom-area residents overwhelmingly support fourth- and fifth-grade students returning to an elementary setting.

While the board has not honed in on the the exact location of a new elementary school, it is being planned somewhere near the existing Windom Middle High School.

Gary Benson, director of project planning and development at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, expects building at that location will result in significant cost savings to the district.

“We’re building it at a site where we know what the site is, we know what we’re likely to expect under the ground and we also have infrastructure in place, which is really important for sewer, water and actually getting to the site — as opposed to if we were building a new elementary on a green field site either to be determined or miles out of town,” Benson said at the Feb. 5 meeting.

If voters approve the May bond referendum, occupancy is preliminarily slated by August 2020.

An approximately $2 million 5,000-square-feet CTE addition and subsequent repurposing of the existing space is also being sought. However, if approved by voters, it will not be exactly what the district had originally hoped.

“This is where some of the sacrifices to meet that budget come in,” Wormstadt said about the majority of survey respondents supporting $29 million worth of projects but only $24 million in taxes. “So we will need to grant, partner to do some of the equipment upgrades to make this work over the next two years’ time.”

The existing CTE space will likely be repurposed for a medical careers program.

Both project estimates account for soft costs and contingency to allow for some leeway.

Construction and bond issuance for the two projects is not to exceed $23.95 million, which the district is hopeful the public will support as the majority of the survey’s respondents (23 percent of the district’s eligible voters) indicated.

Board member Rick Frederickson said the board’s buildings and grounds committee prioritized the projects based on the community’s feedback, which also meant — despite the desires of the board — not to pursue a new performing arts center. However, Frederickson believes a good CTE center can be built under the budget restraints.

“We still feel we’ll come up with a very good CTE center — something that we’re going to be able to work with our community partners on and really be an asset to our community in our learning process and an asset in our industry and medical careers,” Frederickson said.

A Minnesota Department of Education review and comment on the proposal is also underway.

Benson and Paul Lawson, the school’s architect, said they believe the district will receive a positive review and comment.

“You’ve done a great job of due diligence and intentionality, so I don’t see anything about this proposal that would raise any red flags at all,” said Lawton, associate principal and project architect at ISG.

A link to the district’s full survey results is available on the district website’s homepage.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka