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GCED board to look into new construction

Though they didn't make any final decisions, the Goodhue County Education District Board voted 5-0 Thursday evening to begin exploring options for constructing one building to house its programming.

The board's vote came after an hour-long presentation from consultants Don Lifto of Springsted, Roger Worner of Roger Worner Associates, Inc., and John Huenink of Kraus-Anderson Construction. The district hired the consultants in January to review the current physical condition and educational adequacy of its current sites and help determine possibilities for the future.

"We've got way too much space, and it's expensive," Lifto told the board. "And you don't have enough space. It sounds like double talk. You have programs that don't have enough space and you're paying for too much space."

Currently, GCED programs -- which serve the Red Wing, Goodhue, Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Cannon Falls and Kenyon-Wanamingo school districts -- are housed in the Jefferson School building in Red Wing and in Wastedo School and Riverside School, both in Cannon Falls.

Those properties total about 90,000 square feet of "not very efficient" space, Huenink said. Based on the district's enrollment, the communities' populations and projected population trends, GCED only needs about 68,000 square feet of space, he said.

The space issue comes about because the current buildings were not custom-built for the district's programs and are in some cases outdated. As a result, a lot of the space is not being used efficiently.

"There's a huge amount of duplication," Worner added, mentioning additional gyms, bathrooms and hallways that the district doesn't necessarily need.

"The education district and its member districts can ill-afford to maintain the cost-ineffective operation of these three or more school facilities," Worner told the board. He adding that the district is paying for not only things like heating, cooling and maintenance, but also for transportation costs when staff travel between sites.

"We do need to reduce the number of sites," Tony Simons, Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District superintendent and member of the GCED's facilities committee. "We're paying for a lot of duplications."

The consultants included in its presentation 10 options for the district going forward. Those options ranged from simply remodeling the district's current buildings to building a brand new 70,000 square foot facility.

While remodeling was one of the cheaper options at about $10.8 million, the GCED Board quickly focused on building a new facility, which the consultants estimate would cost between $14.5 and $16.8 million, depending on its size.

"You start looking at (our current buildings); the amount of money you need to put into them, (remodeling) may save money, but in the end you still got an old building and it's not in the right place," board chair Jim Wendt said.

The consultants also included several possible sites around the county for a new facility. Ranking highest on the list were the current Wasteo School site or a site just behind Red Wing High School.

Thursday's vote allows GCED Executive Director Cherie Johnson to begin talking with the five member districts' superintendents about the feasibility of the facility options and further explore single site possibilities, either in Red Wing or in Cannon Falls.

Part of that process is exploring how the project will be funded, Johnson said. Because GCED is not able to levy for funds itself, funding could come from member districts' lease levies or from additional state funding. But exactly how the project would be funded is part of the exploration process that the GCED is just now beginning, she added.

"We are a good six months away from that discussion," she said.

Johnson also noted that Tower View Alternative Learning Center -- which recently became part of the GCED -- and its location at the Anderson Center will not be affected by any facility changes.

Though the GCED board is looking into these options, Johnson said the board could still decide at a later date to move in a completely different direction. According to a tentative timeline from the consultants, a final decision wouldn't need to be made until December.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.