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MACCRAY mulls committee to look at building issue anew

MACCRAY East Elementary in Raymond is shown in this 2012 photo. School Board members are going back to the drawing board to develop a new approach to address the district’s building needs. Tribune file photo

CLARA CITY — Just weeks after voters rejected a $20 million bond proposal to build a central elementary school, MACCRAY School Board members are going back to the drawing board to develop a new approach and, it is hoped, heal a divided district.

Board members informally expressed support for a proposal by member Tim Smith to appoint an advisory committee to look anew at the district’s building issues. Meeting in a work session Monday evening in Clara City, board members discussed creating an advisory committee that would include appointed members from each of the three communities in the district — Clara City, Maynard and Raymond — along with school board members.

The committee might also work with a new consultant in place of Energy Services Group of Wayzata, the firm that developed the original plans for the district.

The details are still to be worked out. Board members instructed interim Superintendent Loren Hacker to develop a proposal based on these ideas for their next regular meeting. They reiterated their satisfaction with the work performed by Energy Services Group, but said they would be open to working with the Lightowler Johnson and Associates firm of Fargo, N.D., which the communities of Raymond and Maynard had retained to provide an estimate for upgrading the elementary buildings in the communities.

Smith said he does not believe it is fiscally responsible to operate two elementary schools. He opposes spending as much to upgrade the West and East elementary schools in Maynard and Raymond as it would cost to build a new elementary attached to the high school in Clara City. But he told board members the district has to find a way to move forward, stating: “A no vote didn’t solve any of our problems.”

“I don’t want to fight with people,” he said during the discussions. “I want to come to a solution that is best for the kids and best for the district.”

Board members often made note of the divisions that have emerged in the district, evident by the vote. The voters rejected the $20 million bond issue on Jan. 7 by an overall vote of 1,067 to 733, or 59 percent to 41 percent. Voters in the original Raymond and Maynard districts rejected the measure, while those in Clara City supported it. If the measure had been approved, the elementary schools in Raymond and Maynard would have been closed.

A majority of the board members expressed continued support for the unified elementary proposal during the discussions.

Board chairman Lane Schwitters said he believes that the proposal suffered at the polls due to the belief that closing the elementary schools in Raymond and Maynard would hurt the communities; that people would leave the district if change was made; and that people feel the existing educational system is “good enough.” He and other members also said the proposal was up against a great deal of “misinformation.”

Board member Debi Brandt urged them not to dismiss the election results. “We need to respect the integrity of the voters,” she said.

Brandt also emphasized the importance of maintaining support from the East and West elementary communities, likening them to the district’s book ends. “Take those book ends off and it is going to fall apart,” she said.

Board members said that there is urgency in finding a way to move forward. Superintendent Hacker proposed that the district conduct small group tours of the elementary schools to make people aware of the challenges being faced.

The schools are at the point where decisions will need to be made, board members indicated. Two classrooms in the West elementary school are currently being heated with space heaters. Parts for the aged heating systems in both elementary buildings are no longer available, and must be specially built when failures occur. It usually takes more than a month to get a replacement part as a result, according to Elementary Principal Doug Runia.   

Raymond area residents present for the meeting told board members that they had invested nearly $8 million in the previous year upgrading the heating system and infrastructure in the high school building in Clara City, which was built in 1966. The buildings in Raymond and Maynard are of similar age and could likewise be upgraded.

Board member Scott Ruiter responded that it was not a matter of age, but the quality of the buildings.

Chairman Schwitters said he wanted to find the best solution to carry the district for the next 40 years, and suggested the right decision was critical in keeping the district together. “We need to make some really good decisions right now,” he said.

Tom Cherveny

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

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