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Benson school board hears $8.5 million proposal for Northside Elementary

A classroom is shown in the Benson Junior High building. The Benson Schools District has an estimated $10 million to $12 million worth of needs to address in the high school and junior high buildings. The Junior High includes a 1928 auditorium and 1952 addition with classrooms. ( FILE | TRIBUNE)1 / 2
Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer draws attention to the ceiling light fixtures as school board members and others tour the Benson School’s indoor pool Monday during the school board meeting. A need to replace the pool’s lighting system proved the last straw, as board members voted to close the indoor pool at the end of the school year. (TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE)2 / 2

BENSON — Benson School Board members are in the early stages of crafting a new plan to address the district’s facilities needs, one year after voters rejected an $18.7 million bond issue.

Superintendent Dennis Laumeyer offered a proposal to board members Monday aimed at addressing the district’s interest in increasing preschool programming by constructing new classrooms at the Northside Elementary.

Calling it “a proposal, a starting point,’’ the superintendent outlined a potential $8.5 million project to bring to the voters in November 2017. It would add six preschool classrooms at the Northside Elementary; upgrade the kitchen and expand the cafeteria; upgrade the heating and ventilation system; replace a roof and all of the windows; and upgrade bathrooms and lockers.

The district will ask voters to renew an operating levy in 2017 as well. Laumeyer said the district should be able to renew it at approximately its current level of $1,300 per student.

He said the district could also consider asking voters to separately consider a $3.5 million issue to address space needs for the gymnastics program. The school currently uses the city-owned armory building, and there is uncertainty about the city’s plans to maintain the aged structure.

The proposal to invest in the Northside Elementary School will likely generate lots of debate. School board member Bill McGeary noted that demographic data for the district indicates it will not need its classrooms in about 18 years. He pointed out that the district’s long-range plan had called for a single-campus system.

Northside Elementary currently holds grades K-4, while grades 5-6 are located in the Benson Elementary Building near the Senior and Junior High School buildings.

If voters support the Northside proposal in 2017, the district will still need to address needs at the high school and junior high facilities beginning in 2020, according to the superintendent. Those needs are estimated at over $11 million, according to information previously presented to the board from Architect Paul Youngquist of Architects Rego + Youngquist, St. Louis Park. The “white elephant’’ is the Junior High building, Laumeyer said. It includes an auditorium built in 1928 and a classroom area added to it in 1952.

A November 2017 referendum date will give school board members ample opportunity to vet the building issues with voters, Laumeyer said. He also pointed out that school referendums held during presidential elections have a lower success rate.

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Benson Schools to close indoor pool 

Tom Cherveny

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

(320) 214-4335
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