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Community input helped refine referendum request

By Brad Shaffer, District 518

WORTHINGTON — As we approach the end of the year, I would like to take a moment to thank community members for your commitment to Worthington schools. Many members of the community participated in the process that shaped the project that voters will consider at the ballot box on Feb. 13, 2018.

What was the process?

The community of Worthington provided great insight and opinions that led to the eventual decision on the plan that makes up the referendum. We began making adjustments for growing enrollment in 2009 and began a planning process to address space shortages in 2013. We studied district-wide facility needs, used a community task force to review deferred maintenance needs, educational and programmatic needs, and our financial status.

This past year, we conducted a public opinion survey, gathered stakeholder input from numerous community leaders and organizations, and held listening sessions and forums for community members. Multiple options (provided on the district web page under 2018 referendum) were explored in detail before a solution was adopted for consideration by voters in February. This project is different than the last referendum. It is $10 million less and does not include a stadium, athletic fields, or other expenses. It addresses space concerns head-on.

Room to grow

Five of the best options were evaluated before settling on the proposed plan. The plan would build a new high school for grades 9-12 for 1,100 students. The existing high school would become home to grades 6-8, the existing middle school becomes grades 3-5, Prairie Elementary School becomes K-2 and partial early childhood programming. This was the most cost-effective of the feasible options and keeps grade configurations educationally sound.

It’s a long-term solution that supports the educational goals of the district and aligns with the district’s master plan. It also accounts for space needs while enabling future growth.

Please ask questions

We are continuing to engage the community. My colleagues on the school board and I are in constant contact with community members at meetings, and we are willing to chat at church, at the grocery store or other places. We will try to answer your questions the best that we can. Many of the questions we’ve been asked are on the district website at www.isd518.net.

ALC/Gymnastics facility

One of the questions we have received is about the ALC/Gymnastics facility that will be built this summer. A new building for the ALC (Area Learning Center) and gymnastics program was approved by the school board to be constructed on property on the western edge of the city where the proposed high school would be built. We needed a new facility quickly because we lease space for the very popular gymnastics program (state tournament competitors for each of the last three years) in the Armory, which the owners plan to find other uses for or potentially sell.

The school board initially wanted to use fund balance for the project in order to avoid collecting additional property taxes, but the Minnesota Department of Education would not allow us to do that. Instead, we are required to finance the project through a bond. In 2018, the school district will pay for the cost of bond repayment from fund balance. In 2019 and through the bond term, the community will pay for bond repayment in the form of a lease levy; however, any property tax change is likely to be small because the district is paying off other bond debt (middle school additions/building energy project upgrades) in order to help reduce this impact.

The school district did investigate possible facilities in the community that might be repurposed for gymnastics, but nothing could be found with enough ceiling height or that would be a cost-effective solution to repurpose. The current gym space is utilized for many other programs and constant moving of equipment would not work well. The school board did the research and the best solution was to construct a new facility.

We have faced some challenges with the project as the cost has risen. This is due to some soil correction work we will have to do on the site, and a decision to increase the building size by more than 4,500 square feet to better meet the needs of these programs.

Happy holidays to you and your family! You can find more referendum information on the district website. Feel free to contact us at info@isd518.com or by phone at 372-2172 with any questions.

Brad Shaffer is treasurer of the Worthington District 518 school board.

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