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Pelican Rapids school proposal is questioned

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn - School Superintendent Kent Baldry took a $33 million quiz Tuesday night. He'll know May 12 how well he did. Baldry answered sometimes-tough questions about the Pelican Rapids School district's proposed $33 million bond refe...

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn - School Superintendent Kent Baldry took a $33 million quiz Tuesday night.

He'll know May 12 how well he did.

Baldry answered sometimes-tough questions about the Pelican Rapids School district's proposed $33 million bond referendum during a special meeting of the Lida Township Board.

The district's elementary school will be renovated and a new middle/high school built if district voters approve the referendum on May 12.

Many residents of Lida Township, which is part of the district, have questions about the proposal, so the Township Board invited school officials to come and answer questions, said Richard Sha, Township Board Chairman.

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Baldry said the district's elementary and high schools are aging and need expensive upgrades.

Renovating the elementary school makes sense, Baldry said.

But building the proposed 155,075-square-foot secondary school would cost $23 million, while renovating the existing one would cost $16 million, he said.

Spending so much on the old building - part of which dates to 1928 - doesn't make sense, especially since a new building would save $86,500 annually on energy and maintenance, Baldry said.

Sha repeatedly questioned the district's figures, particularly the $16 million price tag for renovating the school.

"We're very comfortable with those numbers," Baldry said.

Sha also challenged Baldry and school officials to provide specific details such "as the current minimum guideline for measuring the proper capacity of corridors, restrooms and stairwells," which proponents of the referendum say need to be expanded.

"I feel like I'm back in confirmation with all these things to recite," Baldry said.

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Susanne Seifert, a Pelican Rapids resident with two children in school, was among the 60 people at the meeting.

She told school officials the $33 million project would impose too much of a tax burden on many in the district.

Taxes on a $70,000 house - the average price of a house in Pelican Rapids - would rise by $148 annually.

Taxes on a $144,000 house - the average price of a house in the entire district, which has many lakeside homes - would rise $304 annually.

"We're a small distict. We can't afford to do what they do in Fargo or Minneapolis," she said.

Seifert, who said her school taxes would rise 50 percent if the referendum is approved, said renovating the high school is more prudent than building a new one.

If the referendum is approved, construction would begin in the spring of 2006 and be completed before school begins in the fall of 2007.

The district hasn't decided where the new secondary school would be built. But it's investigating three 50-acre parcels, two on the north side of town and one on the south side.

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Baldry said the School Board and administrators weighed the issue carefully before deciding to bring the referendum before voters.

"We really do think this is in the best interests of our district," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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