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Bond issue in RWC will be decided next week by voters

RENVILLE -- Voters in the Renville County West School District will decide on Sept. 9 if they want to pay for a new K-12 school building in Renville.

A "yes" vote will lead to the issuance of $19.46 million in bonds to pay for a new building on school-owned land along U.S. Highway 212 in Renville.

A "no" vote will stop the plans for a new school, but the School Board will have to decide what to do with aging buildings that need millions of dollars in repairs to meet safety standards.

The issue has been hotly debated at several public meetings in the district and in numerous letters to area newspapers. Superintendent Lance Bagstad just completed a month-long public education effort, spending three mornings a week in coffee shops in the district's three communities -- Danube, Renville and Sacred Heart.

Bagstad said this week that he enjoyed going out and meeting people in the communities. "It was a good exercise," he said, and he plans to continue to schedule time in the communities, though not on such an ambitious schedule.

The School Board has talked for several years about the need to move all of its students into one building to improve efficiency and save on operating costs.

The district currently operates two buildings, an elementary school in Sacred Heart and a secondary school in Renville. The board closed a middle school in Danube several years ago to save money.

Neither the Renville nor the Sacred Heart buildings are large enough to hold all the district's students and programs. There is room for expansion in Renville, but expanding the school and bringing it up to modern standards could cost more than $14 million.

The oldest portion of the Sacred Heart building is 107 years old. It is believed to be the oldest operating school building in the state. The oldest portion of the Renville building is 87 years old.

Opponents of the school issue have said that the district's enrollment is falling and students could eventually fit into the Renville building without an addition. They have also urged the district to consider remodeling instead of building a new school.

Bagstad said enrollment seems to have stabilized, and several demographic studies indicate that the district could see modest increases in the next decade. RCW had 586 students in the 2007-08 school year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education Web site.

The state won't approve a remodeling project if the price is more than 60 percent of the cost of a new school. Bagstad said a district can go ahead with a project without state approval, but it must be approved by two-thirds of the local voters.

The tax increase associated with the project is a concern, especially in the farming community, Bagstad said.

An $80,000 homestead would see its taxes increase $169 a year, about $14 a month. A commercial/industrial property valued at $250,000 would see an $896 increase, about $75 a month. An agricultural homestead worth $400,000 would see a $257 increase, about $21 a month.

Bagstad said he also urges property owners to call 1-800-552-1171 to get more information from Ehlers & Associates, the district's financial adviser. Have parcel numbers available from property tax statements and ask for Gary Olsen, Carolyn Drude or a member of the education team. They will provide an estimate of the total tax impact.

Information about the project and the tax impact is available at the school district's Web site: