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Referendum question coming to Z-M

ZUMBROTA — Voters in the Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District will have the chance to vote yes or no on a $49.95 million building bond referendum.

The School Board voted unanimously Feb. 11 to put the question to voters on May 14.

The board came to its decision after forming a task force of community members, faculty and board members a year ago. The task force's goal was to find out needs and wants for the district over the coming years, along with speaking with the rest of the community to find what citizens could tolerate, financially speaking, from a referendum vote.

The task force passed recommendations to the board for consideration.

Board weighs two options

Two options were discussed, and the board went with Opion 1:

• Option 1: $49,950,000 building bond

• Option 2: $61,895,000 building bond

Option 1 will remodel and add on new rooms to each school building. A total of 68,215 square feet will be added in new classrooms and space.

The high school would see an new almost 8,000-square-foot auxiliary gym, with numerous classrooms added on as well. Similar to the high school, the elementary school would have an 8,000-square-foot auxiliary gym and add special education and third-grade classrooms on as well.

The major difference between the two options is the addition of a brand new middle school. The school would be 81,300 square feet and would result in the elementary school building only remodeling existing classrooms and the new classrooms at the high school would be cut significantly.

Superintendent Michael Harvey noted the addition operations costs that come with a new building. Adding someone in clerical, nursing, teachers and administration would cost almost $750,000.

Option 2 centers on additional funding that would build a new auditorium at the high school. The current, 500-seat auditorium would not be tore down or remodeled, but would remain.

Harvey said after the meeting that discussions with the public didn't see that as a necessity.

A rushed effort?

Only one person spoke during public comment of the meeting. Paul Peterman, Zumbrota, is a member of the task force. Peterman said the "concept" of the task force was good and said they received "sound and prudent" support from the community. However, the process was rushed, according to Peterman, who said they didn't have enough time to do a thorough examination.

"I just don't feel there was a discussion around a variety of things," Peterman said.

He said they received their possible options weeks ago to pass along to the board. He feels there are still questions of school safety, a longer plan in 20 and 30 years hasn't been properly assessed, and wanted to make sure the board understood there might be more work to do.

Harvey said after the meeting the task force had two votes, a preliminary and a final, to pass option recommendations to the board; 89 percent of the task force voted on the top two options, with the remaining voting for a new grades 9-12 building.

The long-term facilities planning process predates Harvey, he said, continuing by saying a year ago he decided they needed to focus the previous plans created by administration with more comments from the community.

Harvey said they surveyed 625 people on which options they would like to see from the school district and spoke with faculty, staff and students as well.

"And we could talk and talk about it, then somebody would say we could talk about it for another year, two years, or three years," Harvey said. "At a certain point, in what we saw tonight as the board said, 'This is our decision and we're moving on.'"

Board comments

Chair Jean Roth said this referendum is "a long time coming" and the board, and task force, have done their due diligence.

"It's critical that we listen," Roth said. "I'm afraid that if we went for Option 2, not only would we not get it, then things get more expensive, because time is money, and we're trying to be fiscally responsible."

Harvey said after the meeting that every time they talked with community members about building new, more and more people were hesitant to support their plans.

Treasurer James Wendt, who was available via video conference as he was out of the city, said the structural bones of the schools are still there. They just need to add some pieces on for space needs.

Vice-chair Jason Lohmann said both options were great, but Option 2 requires paying for something now when they don't have the money and hope they might have the money 10 years later.

"Basically to me, the community has spoken. .... The people have basically told us what we need," Lohmann said.

If passed, this will be the first building bond passed since 1994.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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