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FULL STORY: District 518 calls for two-question August referendum

WORTHINGTON -- Independent School District 518 has new proposals for district residents to consider on Aug. 14. After more than an hour and a half of deliberation during a Friday morning special Board of Education meeting, the board approved a tw...

District 518 Administrative Building
District 518 Administrative Building (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Independent School District 518 has new proposals for district residents to consider on Aug. 14.  

After more than an hour and a half of deliberation during a Friday morning special Board of Education meeting, the board approved a two-question Aug. 14 ballot in an ongoing effort to solve space and facility needs.

The first question relates to a bond proposal not to exceed $35 million to be utilized for a grades 3-5 intermediate school. The board plans to supplement that request with its own funds necessary to complete the estimated $36.4 million project.
While more board members hesitated about approving a second question, voters will also be asked to support up to $4 million toward athletic field improvements. Specific details - such as location, a new field or improvements to the existing Trojan Field - are yet to be determined.

Adding a third question relating to the proposed WELL project, or building a second story onto the high school for four additional classrooms, were also discussed, but did not move forward.

Intermediate school Part of Friday’s action was based on recent community organization feedback , where Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee and newly organized Worthington Think Tank members shared proposals that were within an approximately $6 million range of the other.

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The Worthington Think Tank advocated for a new intermediate school at $36.4 million. That would be used as a short-term solution to begin alleviating space constraints while tracking where future enrollment may direct the district next.

The WCPC’s proposal did not identify where funds should be used, but said a cap of $30 million bond request is the most it would support.

Landgaard said based on conversations that occured on the interim between when proposals were shared and Friday’s special meeting, a consensus for support was reached at $35 million if the board was willing to commit some of its own funds to help the project come to fruition.

If the bond proposal is approved, the board would commit the $1.4 million difference for the 120,000 square-feet intermediate school for 900 students. While he voted in favor of the motion, board member Mike Harberts did not think that was enough.

“My recommendation is a significant payment from the fund balance to bring the bond payment down,” Harberts said. “I think it should be at least $32, $33 (million, bond proposal). I think we need to put a strong effort forward from the board on that.”

Board member Steve Schnieder and Treasurer Brad Shaffer voiced similar opinions against that idea, not wanting to put the district in a stressed situation.

“We can’t use all our fund balance on one project,” Schnieder said. “We have a problem, but we can’t just put it into one project. There are other ongoing needs of the district.”

The language of the ballot question would allow the district to sell bonds not exceeding $35 million. Prior to that sale, though, the board could decide to commit more of its funds to the project, board member Joel Lorenz pointed out.

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One thing board members agreed on was the need to design the intermediate school with potential to expand or modify it into a high school. District building consultants ICS Consulting and Wold Architects said flexibility would shape the facility’s design.

“The thing about a facility for grades three through five is that we wouldn’t have to include kindergarten spaces and have the need for small bathrooms and toilets,” said ICS Consulting Professional Engineer Pat Overom.

However, added Overom and Wold Architects and Engineers Associate Sal Bagley, conversion from an intermediate school to a high school would require the creation of specialty spaces. Those spaces include labs, shops, fitness center, auditorium or additional gymnasium space.

“Any future expansion would be focused on those specialty spaces,” Overom said.

Athletic field With portions dating back to the 1950s and ’60s, Trojan Field, Landgaard said, is in need of facility improvements, including the track surface, bleachers, field house and ADA compliance updates.

Schnieder - who made the motion to add athletic field upgrades as a second ballot question - said the public needs to realize it’s a serious problem.

“I know people think we ought to address one thing at a time, but we as a board have to address multiple problems at the same time,” he said. “Something needs to be done with (Trojan Field), and if we don’t we might be shutting down programs because we don’t have the facilities to safety and properly provide them.”

Board Chair Lori Dudley and Harberts voted against the motion.

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“I think I heard loud and clear from the public on the last two failed referendums that they didn’t want to hear anything about athletic facilities,” Dudley said. “I think it’s a lightning rod to tell people to confuse them with a second ballot question.”

Board Vice Chair Scott Rosenberg voted in favor, but expressed some reservations.

“I think everyone knows I’d be the first one to advocate for a new athletic complex,” he said. “But I’m kind of on the fence with what Lori said. Do you throw that sports field on the ballot - that you’re asking for no votes on both questions?”

Although left undecided, board members discussed whether the $4 million should be committed toward renovating the current Trojan Field or building anew on the district’s open property on Crailsheim Road.

According to Overom, renovating the current field would be incrementally cheaper than building anew due to existing infrastructure that includes parking, which Schnieder called an existing inadequacy.

Member Joel Lorenz advocated for renovations due to the high school location remaining in the middle of town, while Olson was not in support of investing in upgrades when he believes the future direction is still headed out west.

“It will be more available and usable for a lot more events,” Olson said if the field is built on Crailsheim Road.

Schnieder added that if updates are made to Trojan Field and a new main field is later built, the current field would still be utilized, likely either as a practice or middle school field.

Before deciding on the location (presumably at the board’s regular May 15 meeting), Rosenberg requested that ICS and Wold Architects provide an itemized list of the upgrades $4 million would afford to the current field.

Multi-tiered The multi-tiered/rotational schedule was also discussed - and perhaps for the last time.

Landgaard shared that there are a greater number of students residing in District 518 that will be open-enrolling out during the next school year. The common feedback for that decision, shared Prairie Elementary Principal Heidi Meyer, is due to the multi-tiered discussion.

The board voted unanimously to quash further exploration and discussion related to the matter.

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