Round Lake-Brewster School's $30.48 million referendum set for Feb. 14
After cracks in a school wall were discovered in fall 2021, further investigation revealed that masonry and clay tile had deteriorated.
ROUND LAKE — Deteriorating clay tiles and crumbling walls at the Round Lake-Brewster School in Brewster have been shored up temporarily, but the school is returning to voters on Valentine’s Day to ask for $30.48 million for a long-term fix.
An identical bond referendum failed by just seven votes in August.
Should voters approve the measure, the parts of the school with structural issues will be demolished and replaced with a 72,000-square-foot addition. Doing the project in three phases will allow the school to continue operating throughout construction rather than paying for temporary classrooms.
“We really feel we have no other options,” said Superintendent Ray Hassing during a presentation of the project to about a dozen people in Round Lake Tuesday evening — the second of three scheduled informational meetings. The final meeting is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 9, at Round Lake-Brewster School, in Brewster.
After cracks in a wall were discovered in fall 2021, further investigation revealed the wall’s masonry and clay tile had deteriorated. Engineers assessed the building, and the school added temporary shoring to the wall on all three floors of the old 1914 building — all the way up to the roof line.
While a building inspector approved the temporary measures, the deteriorating wall is also regularly examined and tested by professionals.
Over the summer, a second layer of support was installed, with classroom space shrinking in order to accommodate the shoring.
Round Lake-Brewster Referendum Fact Sheet - on Scribd
“The building is safe to use at this time and continually monitored,” Hassing said, noting that people sometimes asked why the school couldn’t simply stay that way indefinitely.
“... we can’t tell you when there’s going to be a movement or a chip, and then what happens? Then we can’t have the kids in there, and where do we put them?” he asked.
Others have asked him why the school can’t simply fix the wall. The cost of doing that, along with adding four classrooms and expanding the lunch room, would be $21.83 million, not including the cost of any needed mechanical, electrical and window updates.
Part of the reason it would be so expensive is that those portions of the building would not be usable during construction, so temporary classrooms would need to be brought in and used during the two-year construction period. In addition, that part of the school is landlocked by other buildings, and all materials would need to be carried in.
Another option is to build an entirely new school elsewhere, likely at the cost of $40 to $45 million, including the price of the land.
“No one in this room wants anyone to pay more in taxes. I don’t want to pay more in taxes,” Hassing said. “But unfortunately, we really don’t have another decision. And unfortunately, taxes pay for buildings.”
Round Lake-Brewster School has 33 classrooms in its existing building, 17 of which are in the 109-year-old building.
The school also has increasing enrollment. During the 2012-2013 school year, it had just 146 students; in 2020-2021, it had 391, and currently, 503 students attend the Brewster school, Hassing said. Growth is expected to continue.
One factor in the ballooning size of RL-B’s student body is open enrollment from other area school districts, including Worthington.
“The one thing I want to get across tonight is the students, a lot of them do come from Worthington through open enrollment. … they bring in over $2 million a year through state aid to the school district to cover our bills throughout the year,” Hassing said. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if they weren’t in our school district.”
The project would include demolition of the three-story, 1914 building, as well as the 1938 gymnasium. In the same general area, 20 modern classrooms will be built, with dedicated rooms for music, art and science, as well as a school library and media center.
Also included will be a gym with a regulation-sized basketball court and bleacher seating, a shop classroom, a kitchen with space for serving lines and a drive-through lane for dropping off and picking up students.
Should the referendum pass, the whole project could be complete by August 2025.
Tax impacts will vary depending on the property, but a residential homestead assessed at $150,000 would pay about $32 a month during the bond, while an agricultural homestead with the same assessment would pay 35 cents a month.
Due to the Ag2School Tax Credit passed in 2017, a 70% tax credit is automatically applied to property tax bills for all ag property owners — meaning that if the referendum passes, the state of Minnesota will pay approximately 52% of the cost of the whole project, leaving local property taxpayers to fund $14.63 million.
The school’s website on the project, rlbreferendum.org , includes a link to a tax impact calculator.
Round Lake meeting
Several audience members had questions about the proposed project, its tax impacts and its effects.
One wanted to know whether the school planned to continue its pre-kindergarten through eighth grade-only setup or whether it will expand into high school.Hassing replied that it would be difficult to do so currently, partly because of the teacher shortage and partly because of the higher cost of teaching high school due to licensure requirements and the need to offer more than a bare-bones curriculum.
“We would consider a high school in the future, if that’s what the taxpayers wanted,” Hassing said. “But right now, financially, it’s just not (a) real possibility to do that.”
Others wanted to know if the new classrooms would be larger than the current rooms — they will be, which will allow for some growth and offer some flexibility for the future.
The biggest question, however, was what happens if the referendum does not pass on Feb. 14.
“What’s your plan B, if the referendum fails?” asked one meeting attendee.
“We don’t know,” Hassing answered.