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$10.9M project at two YME buildings given OK

GRANITE FALLS -- Yellow Medicine East can continue to move forward with an estimated $10.9 million worth of health and safety and other improvements to its buildings this summer.

A judge's ruling denied a request by two district taxpayers for a temporary injunction to halt the project while they challenge it in court.

District Judge Randall Slieter filed the ruling Friday.

In it, he found that the school district and not the plaintiffs would have the "greater likelihood of success on the merits'' in the lawsuit. Also, the district demonstrated it would suffer great harm by a delay in the project.

The district estimates that it will save millions of dollars by awarding bids now. It wants to take advantage of a competitive construction market.

Also, it must award the bulk of the project by late July to take advantage of low and zero-interest bonds and save million in interest costs through a federal stimulus program.

Patrick McCoy and Scott Wintz, both of Clarkfield, filed the civil lawsuit alleging that the district is attempting to circumvent taxpayer rights to vote on financing for the project. The district is undertaking an estimated $10.9 million worth of improvements overall, with $8.7 million worth of that work being financed as health and safety work. The district does not need to have taxpayer approval to finance health and safety improvements.

The judge's ruling also supported the district's claims that the improvements are needed to bring the district into compliance with current air quality and health standards in its buildings. The district has already invested $1.2 million towards the projects in the Yellow Medicine High School building, originally constructed in 1930, and the Bert Raney Elementary School, originally constructed in 1952.

The district was pleased by the ruling, according to its attorney, Eric Quiring of Ratwick, Roszak & Maloney of Minneapolis. He said he sees no reason why the district cannot proceed with the project at this point.

The plaintiffs have 60 days to appeal the judge's decision, and the ruling on an injunction request does not affect their original civil suit challenging the project.

Quiring said he doesn't believe it would benefit the plaintiffs to continue their case in light of the recent ruling. If the plaintiffs continue the case, they would likely be required to post a surety bond to cover the potential losses of millions of dollars to the district, he noted.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Dustan Cross of the Gislason and Hunter law firm of New Ulm, did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Tom Cherveny

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

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