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Moose Lake seeks referendum to 'complete campus'

Moose Lake Superintendent Robert Indihar says the plans to complete the school campus are the most cost-effective proposals he and the board explored. Andee Erickson / Pine Journal1 / 2
CLICK GRAPHIC TO ENLARGE2 / 2

Five years after voters approved a referendum to build the new prekindergarten through 12th-grade school, the Moose Lake School District is asking residents to vote "yes" on another referendum so it can complete the campus.

On May 14, voters in the district will see two questions on their ballot. The first plan asks for $3.94 million and would improve current outdoor facilities while adding a few indoor and outdoor activity items if passed. The second plan, which asks for $2.7 million, depends on the first plan passing and would include additional activity improvements.

Superintendent Robert Indihar said the state would pay for the other 50 percent of the costs using financial aid from a bond the district still qualifies for after the 2012 flood.

It's important to take advantage of that bond sooner than later, Indihar said, because it expires 20 years after the school entered the bond, which was two years ago, and depreciates in value with time. The same bond paid for about 70 percent of the cost to build the new school.

"We have an opportunity that most schools don't have," Indihar said. "We can get our facilities completed where the state will pay half the cost and we're going to take that chance. We have other avenues where we could complete the campus. We could do it over time, we could piecemeal it, but it would cost a lot more than doing it the way we're trying to do it."

Plans for the campus

The major projects in the first plan include adding a building next to the track and practice football field that would hold locker rooms, concessions, restrooms and storage space. With the sports cooperative between Moose Lake and Willow River, Indihar said the school's locker room isn't large enough to fit all the football players.

Currently, Moose Lake hosts football practice while Willow River hosts the team's home games. Moose Lake School Board Chair Steven Blondo said the facility updates would not affect the sports cooperative with Willow River.

"We remain committed to that cooperative," Blondo said. "Completion of these facilities is not so we can break away from Willow River and the co-op, but rather so we can complete what we started and offer our students and athletes the best opportunities to succeed that we can."

The first plan would also include and early childhood playground and the addition of cross-country trails in the school forest, which, Indihar said, could allow Moose Lake to host cross-country meets some day, while also giving the runners a safe place to practice.

"We want what's best for our kids," Indihar said. "For our kids to run on the street, that's just not acceptable for us. We want to have a facility where our kids can run safely, whether it's track or cross-country. That's a big deal to us."

To properly host a track meet on the new track, Indihar said a covered press box is needed to protect computer equipment, which is why a 500-seat grandstand with a press box is listed in the first plan. The Moose Lake and Willow River track team can't yet hosts meets on the new track.

Blondo said the district discussed the plans with coaches, the athletic director and Willow River to determine what would be required and nice to have in order to host track meets.

Another key part of the first plan is the addition of a parking lot for activities, so motorists don't have to park on County Road 10. The project was originally included in the 2014 plan, but when the last bid came in over-budget, the district decided to exclude the extra parking lot to save on costs.

Answering "yes" on the ballot's second question would mean upgrading the proposed softball field in the first question to a softball complex, while also adding another parking lot and stadium lighting to the school's sports fields.

With the proposed referendum, a house valued at $100,000 would pay $11 for 18 years if just the first question passed, or $21 if both questions passed.

"I think it's very important to have the appropriate facilities for the sporting facilities that go on in high school," Indihar said. "Most schools have a track; most schools have a baseball field; most schools have a softball field; most schools have a football field because you have these sports."

Addressing budget concerns

On April 9, the Moose Lake School Board approved a total of $148,500 in cuts from the general fund in the annual budget, which includes operational costs like supplies and salaries. That includes the salaries of maintenance workers.

Katherine Spaulding, a Moose Lake resident and parent of two children in the district, is concerned the district is underestimating the amount of maintenance all the fields, trails and facilities would require.

She's worried the district might find itself in a position where it needs to hire another maintenance worker, and as a result, further pinch funds for supplies and teacher salaries.

"For $11 a year I would vote 'yes' if this wouldn't affect our budget, but I just don't believe it's not going to," Spaulding said.

If the referendum passes, Indihar said the plan is to have the current part-time maintenance worker mow the grass, drag the fields and keep up with other outdoor maintenance needs. Since a new and more efficient lawn mower is included in the first plan, he said that would save time for the maintenance worker.

He doesn't foresee needing to hire more people, especially since the sale of the former school building and the family center downtown has freed up the custodial staff.

Any upkeep of new facilities, such as purchasing maintenance equipment and repairing facilities, would come out of the capital fund, which is separate from the general fund.

Blondo said the board knows there are costs associated with the facility updates, but remains confident they wouldn't affect the budget.

Still, Spaulding said she would like the board to provide an estimate on what it would take to maintain all the proposed facilities.

Some residents have expressed concern about the district's timing in pursuing a new bond, especially considering the budget cuts the board made last week, but Blondo said going out for the bond is an entirely different pot of money than the general fund that pays for staff. It's also a fiscally responsible opportunity, he said.

"If we wait to get this done, we're going to have less assistance from the state," Blando said. "So we're trying to balance everything as board members and make decisions that are kind of trying to look long term at some decisions."

About the referendum

Question 1, $3.94 million

  1. Add early childhood playground
  2. Add additional parking for activities and events
  3. Improve the track and field complex with:

–Grandstand seating for 500 with press box;

–Building near track for locker rooms, concession stands, public restrooms, storage space;

–Equipment like goal posts and irrigation system.

4. Improve the existing baseball field with:

–Grandstand seating for 250 spectators with press box;

–Caps for existing fencing;

–Benches in dugouts;

–Installing bullpens and a batting cage.

5. Add a softball field with fencing, dugouts, scoreboard, while leveling land for a possible additional softball field

6. Cross-country and school forest trails

7. Early childhood wing cameras for increased security and monitoring

8. New portable stage with accessible ramp

9. Slight enhancement to auditorium sound booth

10. Additional lawn-mowing equipment for increase of green space

Question 2, $2.7 million

Question 1 must pass for Question 2 to pass.

  1. East parking lot to handle additional parking needs
  2. Stadium lighting for football, track, baseball and softball facilities
  3. Upgrade the softball field from Question 1 to a complex that would include:

–Two softball fields with fencing, dugouts and scoreboard;

–Concession space and restrooms;

–Storage facilities;

–Batting cages.

Source: completeourcampus.org/theplan

Andee Erickson

Andee Erickson has been a reporter with the Pine Journal since November 2018. She studied journalism and geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while working at the Leader-Telegram newspaper on weekends. She graduated in 2018. Erickson's from southern Minnesota, but started viewing the north as home after interning for the Duluth News Tribune in the summer of 2017.