After a third referendum failed to get voter approval, the Wrenshall School Board plans to take some time to ponder its future before revisiting the needs of its aging building.
The $14.4 million referendum lost by just 95 votes May 14, setting back plans to renovate the school. The referendum would have paid for a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, as well as a gym addition and new classroom space.
During a meeting Monday, May 20, Vice Chair Janaki Fisher-Merritt said he wants to take a break and return to the issue of facility needs in a few weeks.
"My feel is to wait a month or so and reconvene at that point," Fisher-Merritt said. "I just want to let things settle down and let emotions calm down before we come back and meet again to figure out what our next steps are."
Wrenshall Mayor DonnaMae Weiderman disputed board member Jack Eudy's opinion, which pointed at city plans as a reason voters voted against the referendum. During the School Board's Committee of the Whole meeting May 15, Eudy said he believed the referendum failed in part due to an anticipated increase in the city's property taxes for 2020.
In particular, Eudy said he believes the city should hold off on some anticipated road repairs included in its capital improvement plan (CIP) until the Husky Refinery in Superior is running again.
The refinery has been shuttered since an explosion rocked the facility in April 2018. The closing of the facility has caused the price of asphalt to jump from around $60 per ton to approximately $72 per ton, according to Weiderman.
"I feel that I must address these opinions with facts," Weiderman said. "We adopted a plan last July and are moving forward with engineering and development of plans laid out in the CIP. The city has been developing with great earnest to detail and financial impact for bringing our infrastructure up to the quality it should be as a city. The city did not purposely draw up a tax levy hike to stop the referendum - anyone saying so is not speaking with facts."
Weiderman went on to say that while the city could save some money by waiting on Husky to begin production, savings would amount to approximately $10,000 - if prices drop back to their pre-explosion levels.
However, if the city waits, it would have to split its project into two phases, forcing the city to pay the construction company's $30,000 mobilization fee twice. If the city waits, its costs could increase by $20,000, Weiderman said.
Consolidation talks with Carlton
Board Chair Matthew Laveau asked the board members if they supported him reaching out to Carlton School Board Chair LaRae Lehto about he and Fisher-Merritt meeting with members of the Carlton board informally, or speaking at a Carlton School Board meeting.
The Wrenshall board has repeatedly refused Carlton overtures to engage in facilitated talks about consolidation without the Carlton board first agreeing to school facilities in both communities - an elementary school in Carlton and a middle and high school in Wrenshall.
Fisher-Merritt said the Wrenshall board has made this offer several times since January, but the Carlton board chose not to accept the offer.
However, when Laveau was asked by board clerk Michelle Blanchard if Wrenshall stood by its requirement for two facilities, he said Wrenshall's position is unchanged.
"We're not changing anything," Laveau said. "We're just offering to sit down and see what both boards are looking at for future plans, I guess."