MADISON — It was a small, but friendly audience that gathered Tuesday evening at the Lac qui Parle Valley School District’s Madison-Marietta-Nassau Elementary School.

Principal Kipp Stender led the guests on a tour of the facility in Madison. Superintendent Greg Schmidt outlined a $39.9 million bond proposal to upgrade all of the district’s facilities. It’s one of three open houses the district is hosting before voters go to the polls Nov. 5.

Those joining the tour in Madison generally voiced support for the improvements as they viewed the needs in the building. In casual conversations, they also noted that the tax impact and the difficult year for farming are on the minds of many.

Making this a project that taxpayers can afford was very much on the minds of school board members in adopting it, and moving it forward to make deadlines for a Nov. 5 vote, according to Schmidt. He told the participants that board members had devoted 18 months to examine the district’s needs. More than 40 community members participated in five different meetings to develop the current proposal.

The needs are many, he said.

“It really came down to what we wanted to include in the project, (and) what are we willing to go to taxpayers and ask for,” Schmidt said.

He said the project addresses building needs that will not go away. Board members believe that construction costs will only rise, and delaying the work will only increase costs. The members also feel that current interest rates on bonds, somewhere between 2 to 2.5 percent, are only likely to rise in the years ahead as well.

School board members also want to take advantage of the state Ag2School tax credit that reduces the tax burden on agricultural lands. Ag lands represent about 85 percent of the district’s tax base. Because of the credit, the state will pay approximately 58 percent of the total project costs, or $23 million.

Enrollment in the district is stable, and has shown some growth, according to the superintendent.

The district covers 750 square miles, making it one of the largest districts geographically in southern Minnesota. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office allowed the district to pare the number of polling places from 44 to 11, but dictated the locations for them. The polling places are located in six different counties.

Schmidt acknowledged that the locations are a concern for some. He pointed out that the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office selected them. “The Secretary of State’s office made that decision for us,” he said. The district has been encouraging voters who are concerned about the location of their polling place to use absentee ballots.

If the bond is approved, it would represent the district’s largest project since the high school/middle school facility was built in 1989 in rural Madison. The district is reminding voters that the “new” high school is now at the stage where some of its systems are reaching the end of their useful lives.

The elementary schools in Madison and Appleton are much older and have much greater needs. The project calls for significant upgrades to the ventilation, heating, lighting and electrical systems in both facilities. Improved security systems would also be installed in all of the district buildings.

The proposed building project calls for an estimated $17 million worth of improvements to the Appleton-Milan Elementary, which was built in 1963. It’s also short of the space needed for its enrollment. Along with renovations to classrooms, the project calls for adding a 10,000-square-foot gym and a 22,000-square-foot addition for day care, prekindergarten and special education programs.

The proposal calls for $13 million in improvements to the Madison-Marietta-Nassau Elementary. Originally built in 1937, it includes 1959 and 1969 additions. The original 1937 air handler is still relied on.

The project would renovate classrooms and the building's exterior, and replace windows. The heating system would be converted from steam to hot water. Floors in both gyms would be replaced.

The district proposes $6 million in improvements to the high school building. The project includes replacing the fire alarm system, improving security, developing a small lab for science, technology, engineering and math programming, and upgrading the heating, ventilation and electrical systems.

Before bringing this proposal to voters, board members had considered a variety of options, from building new elementary schools to a consolidated site. A district-wide survey found that 68 percent of respondents supported maintaining the existing elementary schools in the communities over a consolidated elementary school.

The survey also found that 62 percent of respondents said they would support a bond issue for improvements.

If that holds true on Nov. 5, Schmidt told the meeting participants that construction could get underway next summer. The entire project would be completed in early 2022.