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YME wants to add sprinklers to buildings

GRANITE FALLS -- Yellow Medicine East school board members are hopeful of adding sprinkler systems to both the Bert Raney Elementary and YME High School buildings as part of a comprehensive health and safety project under way in the district.

Superintendent Al Stoeckman said board members at the meeting Monday indicated they would like to see the sprinkler work, estimated to cost $680,000, made part of the project.

They also indicated their support for adding wireless technology throughout the school buildings.

The inclusion of the fire safety and technology improvements are made possible by savings realized as a result of competitive bidding on work awarded to date, as well as the recent notification that the federal government was awarding up to $10.7 million Qualified Zone Academy Bonds to help finance $14 million in health and safety improvements to the YME school buildings.

The availability of no- and low-interest funding through Qualified Zone Academy Bonds will reduce the overall financing cost to the district by an estimated $8 million, according to an estimate provided the district.

Qualified Zone Academy Bonds are a financial instrument created by Congress in 1997. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the funds are available for renovation and repair of buildings, equipment and technology updates, among other things.

To date, the YME district has awarded $3,828,511 in work in the high school building and $2,307,097 in the elementary building.

School board members intend to act at their next meeting to order specifications for sprinkler systems, according to Stoeckman.

However, he said board members are concerned about the possible impact of litigation resulting from a civil lawsuit filed against the district. Residents Scott Wintz and Patrick McCoy filed the lawsuit challenging the health and safety project.

They are asking the court to issue a temporary injunction until their complaint can be heard. Their complaint alleges that the board acted illegally by authorizing the health and safety work through the state of Minnesota's alternative facilities program. That program allows the district to issue taxpayer-backed bonds without a referendum.

A hearing on the injunction request is scheduled May 4.

The superintendent said board members fear an injunction would be very costly to the district. It has until Aug. 31 to take advantage of the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds financing help.

They also believe that any delays in the project schedule would prevent the district from taking advantage of the current competitive construction market.

In other business Monday, board members discussed the possibility of reconfiguring the school's grades. The district currently houses kindergarten through sixth grade in one building, and has its pre-K, and seventh- through 12-grade classrooms in the high school building.

A proposal would house pre-K to grade 5 in the elementary school building, and develop separate wings of the high school building to hold a grade 6 to 8 middle school and grade 9 to 12 high school.

Board members also closed the meeting to discuss negotiations with the local Education Minnesota bargaining unit. Stoeckman said the latest proposal from the teachers' union brings the two sides closer and board members are hopeful of seeing an agreement reached.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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