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Final public meeting draws criticism from both sides

Concerns that not enough critics were attending the series of public meetings on district facilities and a possible new school were at least partially answered Monday. At the final public meeting, district officials were grilled about deliberatel...

Concerns that not enough critics were attending the series of public meetings on district facilities and a possible new school were at least partially answered Monday. At the final public meeting, district officials were grilled about deliberately not making repairs to the aging middle school and the effect of higher taxes caused by a building project. At the same time, consultants hired to guide the district through the planning process were criticized for not listening to the community members in support of the building plan, who have largely agreed in previous meetings that any new middle school would need a swimming/diving pool and a larger auditorium (the high school’s auditorium only seats 450) or concert hall space.

“At the last meeting, someone said the middle school was underfunded with repairs, that you diverted funds to other projects, knowing that you might choose to build new,” Richard Colsen said to Superintendent Ken Scarbrough and consultant Paul Youngquist. “Why was the middle school underfunded? So you could create this [estimated $14 million] list of repairs?”

Colsen said he thought that was irresponsible and led to a situation where taxpayers are basically being “held hostage” because the middle school is in worse shape than it might have been.

Scarbrough responded, explaining that the school district had decided not to make the really expensive repairs - including $1 million for tuckpointing - but the district has invested enough to keep the school safe and running properly.

“To put several hundred thousand dollars into a new heating system when you’re hearing from people that they want a new school didn’t seem feasible,” Scarbrough said. “If the public tells us [in a referendum vote] that they want to stay with the current building, we will have to make those repairs.”

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Another audience member wanted to know why the new drawing of a possible middle school site next to the high school didn’t include a pool or an auditorium/concert hall space, noting that the people attending the previous few meetings had been close to unanimous in saying that a new facility would have to include both.

“It’s tough to pass a bond referendum,” Youngquist said. “You have 40 percent of the population that will always vote ‘no,’ 10 percent that will always vote ‘yes’ and the vote of the other 50 percent depends on different factors, but the main one is usually ‘if you don’t spend a dime more than you need to.’”

Another person asked Youngquist why he had not produced a promised drawing of a middle school site where the current high school football and baseball practice fields are - he admitted he had forgotten about it.

Dave Johnson wanted more details about the tax impact of a new school than was listed in the new Facilities Plan and Associated Costs handout distributed at the meeting, raising concerns that businesses and residents on a fixed-income might struggle with a big budget process.

Scarbrough welcomed the questions, noting again that the district needs to hear from a wide range of residents with different viewpoints on possible facilities projects and/or renovations.

“The issue is finance,” Scarbrough said. “We’re asking you, what do you think the tax tolerance is?”

The meeting finished with the crowd of more than 50 people breaking into smaller groups to discuss what exact facilities project the school district should present to voters and/or whether there should be one or several options on the ballot.

Related Topics: CLOQUET
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