LAC QUI PARLE VALLEY — After months of discussions, board members for the Lac qui Parle Valley School District have decided to seek voter approval to remodel the district’s existing elementary schools rather than build new.

Board members approved a motion on Monday to seek voter approval for a $39.5 million bond. Superintendent Greg Schmidt said the school board members support a plan that would undertake over $17 million worth of improvements to the elementary school in Appleton, over $13 million for the Madison elementary, and approximately $6 million to the senior high in rural Madison.

Board members were to meet Friday morning in hopes of setting Nov. 5 as the date for the bond referendum. The board members are awaiting a decision from the Minnesota Secretary of State on the school’s request to consolidate some of the 44 voting precincts that comprise the district, which was formed after three districts consolidated.

A facilities task force had previously recommended replacing the two elementary schools with a new facility on the high school campus. Subsequently, Superintendent Schmidt said many of the committee members said they supported the proposal to refurbish the two elementary schools and maintain them in the two communities. A district-wide survey of residents conducted in April also found overwhelming support for maintaining the schools in the two communities, he said.

The superintendent said the two elementary schools have significant needs. Unesco Architects, with offices in Fargo, North Dakota, and St. Paul, Minnesota, have developed preliminary plans to remodel the facilities. The work includes replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and installing dehumidification systems as well as replacing the electrical systems.

The Appleton school was built in 1962. The proposed building project includes adding a full-sized gymnasium and new classrooms. The school is in need of additional instructional space, according to the superintendent.

The Madison school was originally built in 1937 and includes 1959 and 1969 additions. The original 1937 air handler is still in operation.

Upgrades to the elementary schools also include improved security systems as well as refurbishments to improve their appearances and modernize them inside and out.

The high school was built in 1989 and is in need of upgrades as well. The proposal includes upgrading the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system as well as security improvements.

As many as 52 community residents participated in facilities task force meetings over the past year as the district explored its building needs. The superintendent said the needs are “pretty significant,” and board members hope to see the bond issue approved in November to allow construction to start next year. If a referendum cannot be held until next year, construction would be delayed by about a year. The architects warned that inflation in the construction industry could add nearly $2 million to costs if there is a year’s delay.

Approval of the bond issue would allow the district to take advantage of the state credit provided agricultural properties. About 85 of the district’s tax base is agricultural. The credit would pay 58 percent of the project cost, and local taxpayers would be responsible for 42 percent of the total.

The Lac qui Parle Valley district includes 760 square miles, making it one of the largest in terms of geographic area in southern Minnesota. Most southern Minnesota school districts cover 400 square miles or less, and others less than 500 square miles, according to the superintendent.

All but seven of the district’s 44 voting precincts have gone to mail-in ballots for elections. In one precinct, no voters live in the school district portion, and in two others only two eligible voters live in the school district portions. Many of the other districts have fewer than 30 eligible voters.

Because of those numbers, the superintendent said the district is hopeful the Secretary of State will allow the district to consolidate some of the polling places for purposes of the referendum.