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MACCRAY voters consider $56.1M investment

Tom Cherveny / Tribune MACCRAY School Board Chairman Lane Schwitters, left, visits Monday evening with district resident Kristi Caspers during a community meeting in Clara City about the upcoming referendum in the district. Voters will decide three ballot questions on the Nov. 6 ballot seeking bonding authority for facilities improvements.

CLARA CITY — Voters in the MACCRAY School District are looking over a proposal asking them to invest $56.1 million to renovate the district's two elementary schools in Raymond and Maynard and add a middle school and auditorium to the high school campus in Clara City.

MACCRAY School Board members have answered questions and outlined the project's goals at three community meetings held to date, the latest on Monday evening in Clara City.

The most frequently asked question: "What if it doesn't pass?"

"People ask it in a caring way,'' said Superintendent Sherri Broderius as she prepared to welcome district residents to the Clara City meeting. She's also been speaking to service clubs and other groups in the three communities of the district in advance of the Nov. 6 referendum on the bonding request.

Voters will decide three questions. The first is a $48,150,000 bonding request to cover the major share of work, including remodeling and improving safety and security while also adopting the East Elementary in Raymond and West Elementary in Maynard as prekindergarten-through-grade 4 facilities. It would also fund an approximate 60,000-square-foot addition at the high school to develop a grade 5-8 middle school, construct a 500-seat auditorium and expand the commons area, as well as improve security and safety at the campus.

Voters will also decide a $2 million bonding request to fund the expansion of the Middle School gymnasium to include a third court.

And, they will decide a $5.98 million bonding request to fund the replacement of the heating and ventilation systems at the two elementary buildings to include modern dehumidification and hot water heating systems.

Security and bus loading plans are the questions that MACCRAY School Board member Julie Alsum said she's answered most often as she's staffed one of four information quadrants offered at the community meetings. Attendees could learn about their individual tax impact, the history and timeline of the project, the safety and education improvements planned, and the specifics of the building work.

Voters have previously rejected bonding requests for $38.8 million in 2017 and $20 million in 2014. Both of those proposals called for a central campus system in Clara City, and School Board members were split over them.

This time, board members have unanimously endorsed this larger proposal that maintains a three-campus system. Board chairman Lane Schwitters, who previously favored a central campus, said he is excited about the new proposal. "I support it 100 percent,'' he said at the Clara City informational meeting.

Schwitters said he understood the dollars and cents economy of a central campus, but believes that this three-campus system will serve the district far better. It will offer much more in the way of educational opportunities, he said.

He cited the plans for preschool instruction areas at the elementary schools, the middle school addition, and expansion in both industrial arts and agriculture and music and arts as just some examples where educational improvements will be made.

And ultimately, he pointed out, the district needs more space at the high school campus. Enrollment is growing in the lower grades, and those students will soon be crowding a high school campus already short on space.

Attendance has been light at the three informational meetings. The district has mailed printed materials to residents outlining the proposal, and details are also available on the district's website. Those who have attended the meetings have been generally well-versed on what the project is calling for, according to the superintendent and board members at the Clara City meeting.

As for what happens if the measure does not pass, Broderius said the district can only anticipate that future costs to meet the district's needs will increase. She is concerned that the district could be forced to tap monies that would otherwise pay for educational instruction to replace windows and meet building needs.

Agricultural land in the district carries 80 to 82 percent of the tax burden, but 40 percent of it comes as state aid to the district. That 40 percent would be lost if the bond is not approved, she said.

If approved, construction would likely begin in late summer or the fall of 2019. The entire range of work would not completed until the fall of 2021, according to Mike Hubbard, ICS Consulting, project manager.

Tom Cherveny

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

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