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Round Lake-Brewster to retry $30.48 million referendum in February

“Our building is safe,” said Superintendent Ray Hassing. “... we’re not taking any chances with the safety of students or staff.”

Round Lake-Brewster School Superintendent Ray Hassing looks at a shored-up wall in the school during a tour of the building on Sept. 21. The temporary shoring-up goes from the ground floor to the roofline on that wall.
Round Lake-Brewster School Superintendent Ray Hassing looks at a shored-up wall in the school during a tour of the building on Sept. 21. The temporary shoring-up goes from the ground floor to the roofline on that wall.
Kari Lucin / The Globe
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BREWSTER — Where children’s art projects and brightly-colored murals usually grace the walls, one three-story wall at Round Lake-Brewster School has a different look — heavy wooden columns and beams, partially clad in drywall.

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The unusual look isn’t decor, but a temporary fix for the school’s 1914 building, as the Round Lake-Brewster Board of Education will once again ask taxpayers for a $30.48 million referendum to demolish that portion of the school and build an addition in its place in February.

A previous referendum failed at the polls in August by just seven votes.

“Our building is safe,” said Superintendent Ray Hassing. “... we’re not taking any chances with the safety of students or staff.”

An initial discovery of cracks in a wall led to the discovery that the masonry wall and clay tile had deteriorated, prompting the school to bring in structural engineers and building contractors for a building assessment. Then temporary shoring was placed on all three levels, right up to the roofline, to support the wall and balance it safely, with a building inspector approving the temporary fix and the plan. The deteriorating wall is both tested and checked regularly by professionals, too.

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The damage had been hidden behind a faux wall.

“There was no way of knowing,” Hassing said.

Costs and benefits

“We looked at meeting our needs. What do we need here, in the long term?” Hassing said, recalling the decision-making process.

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“Fortunately, the homeowner was home and got after it with a fire extinguisher right away,” said Brewster Fire Chief John Garmer.

The school looked at fixing the wall, but found that would cost an estimated $2 to 3 million, a price which would not include the cost of temporary classrooms for the students displaced by the project.

The state of Minnesota advised building an entirely new school on a new site, but that would mean the school would need to find and purchase 30 acres of land.

Using the old Round Lake school wasn’t an option either, as it was sold in 2013 and even at that time, needed upgrades if it was going to be used as a school again.

The school’s contractor and engineers looked at the situation, and it seemed like the best option was to remain in the current location, Hassing said. That would allow the school to continue using all the classrooms during the phased building process. As there are 18 classrooms in the 1914 building, housing around 360 students, that would mean the school could avoid spending money on temporary facilities.

It would also allow the school to keep the newer portions of its building, which are fully up to code and do not need renovation, Hassing said.

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Additionally, with the ag credit figured into the cost of the $30.48 million building project, local taxpayers would end up paying about $14 million of the cost.

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“$14 million gets you longevity,” Hassing said. “This is not a want. This is a need for student and staff safety.”

He encouraged people with questions to contact him or a school board member to ask them, and for more specific information about how much a taxpayer would need to pay to fund the new building, they can contact Matthew Hammer, a senior municipal advisor at Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, at mhammer@ehlers-inc.com.

“We’re about educating students, and providing a quality education,” Hassing said. “A new building would address those issues.”

For more information on the referendum, including a slide presentation on the project from the school, visit https://www.rlb.mntm.org/ and click on “See All News.”

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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