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Carlton board votes to bond for $5.58 million

Debate over Carlton School District plans for $5.58 million in facility repairs and parking lot abatements heated up Monday, before school board members voted 5-1 in favor of bonding for the money without voter approval.

Several residents addressed the Carlton School Board during a public hearing on the proposed property tax abatement and during the public comments portion of the meeting Monday evening. Opinions were divided.

"Parking lots are expensive and we're not sure what we're going to do with the high school," school district resident David Chmielewski told the board. The abatement bonding projects at South Terrace Elementary include:

• Repairing the east lot and driveway by sealing all cracks and applying an aggregate seal coat; the cost estimate is $21,133;

• Paving the south parking lot, which includes excavating and adding additional base aggregate of about eight inches and bituminous while addressing drainage issues; the cost will be $92,588; and

• Replacing the broken concrete panels and curbing at east lot and clean up the walkway to north of the east lot for $23,273, which brings the total to $136,994 for the elementary school projects.

The projects at the high school includes:

• Replacing cracked and broken concrete around the building and making the main entry slope ADA compliant, at a cost of $136,058;

• Reconstructing the north parking lot with about eight inches of base and three inches of new bituminous, including repairing areas that are distressed but do not require full reconstruction, and addressing drainage issues at the northeast corner of the lot by the gym as best as possible within the parameters of existing elevations; cost is $199,634;

• Reconstructing the east parking lot, also known as the old tennis courts, with about eight inches of base and three inches of new bituminous for $62,274; and

• Paving the bus garage parking lot in front of the garage doors, but not include the north side. This area will consist of about eight inches of base with six inches of bituminous for a cost of $95,631 and a grand total of $493,599 spent at the high school.

Chmielewski, a contractor/developer and local resident, said he thought a less expensive option for the parking lots would be reclamation, which means to chop up the asphalt and pack it down instead of paving with new tar.

"Reclamation is a lower cost solution until a long-term solution can be determined for the high school building and school district," Chmielewski said. He added he agreed the handicapped accessibility should be fixed as suggested. Chmielewski also said he thought the proposed contracts had overcharged by at least a half million dollars.

Other residents nodded in agreement as he spoke.

Other residents thanked the school board for the work they had done. Several urged board members to hire locally to help support local businesses. InGensa, Inc., the consulting company hired by the district, is based in Plymouth, Minn.

Resident Timothy Soden-Groves addressed the school board, saying he felt the board was reacting with vindictiveness after the August failed referendum.

"Why wouldn't the school board want to perform due diligence to verify by testing that South Terrace actually, or potentially, has a humidity-based health issue before they commit over $2 million for a dehumidification system?" Soden-Groves asked. "Doesn't the reluctance to take even this simple step strongly suggest that this spending is retaliatory in nature, not constructive?"

Soden-Groves told board members they still have not asked residents, who would pay the $5.58 million for 18 years, what they thought of the abatement project.

Chmielewski urged board members to consider using a business manager to manage consultant and construction contracts. He also recommended using a construction inspection consultant to certify contractors work as well as limit InGensa's $1 million contract to concept phase and the board would save residents hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Later in the meeting Greg Crowe, an advisor with Ehlers Senior Municipal, read the pre-sale report out loud to board members and the audience, pausing to ask if there were any questions in between.

Crowe explained the abatement bonds are the only way the board can finance the project and the debt would be outstanding for 16 years. The board needs to wait 10 years before they can refinance for better rates. The principal amount for the abatement bond sale is estimated to be $640,000 with an average interest rate on the bonds of 3.08 percent, according to the report. The facilities maintenance portion is estimated at $5.14 million.

"General Obligation Bonds will result in lower interest rate than some other financing options," Crowe read. "Unlike some other financing tools, the district will be able to finance bond payments with an additional debt service levy."

Everyone listened quietly as he read through the report.

Board members Tim Hagenah, Stephanie Gibson, Julianne Emerson, LaRae Lehto and Susan Karp voted to approve the resolution for the Property Tax Abatement for Parking Lot Reconstruction.

Jennifer Chmielewski was the only board member to oppose the resolution.

She explained her reasoning to the other board members.

"We only got the contract minutes before the meeting and there wasn't any time to go over the contract," she said, adding that residents also were not given time to read over the contract. She said she thought there was an opportunity to make changes in the contract that could potentially save residents and the school district up to $3 million.

"I don't want this to turn into the Carlton School Red Plan," she said.

None of the other board members commented on the plan.

Carlton Superintendent Gwen Carman noted the facility committee would discuss and consider the option of reclamation as the design and planning process for the projects moves forward in the next few weeks.

Bids are expected to go out for the project in late February or early March.

After the vote, several members of the audience left the meeting and gathered in the hallway to share their thoughts and talk among themselves.

They said they felt board members had already made up their collective minds and were not interested in listening to the residents they serve.

"The taxpayers just got violated for no reason," David said. "They could save thousands, if not millions, but the school board members do not care."