Board gets update on high school price tag
At its regular meeting last week, the Hudson School Board got the latest information about what it would cost to build a 10-12 high school and a four-section elementary school.
Dick Muenich, the recently re-elected board member and chairman of the board's facilities committee, gave his report in response to a request from the board to get more specific information about the cost of the schools as recommended by the facilities task force.
Muenich said the high school, which will be designed to immediately handle 1,400 students with room to expand to 1,600, would cost $49.1 million to build, according to ATS&R, the firm hired by the district to consult on facility needs. That is an increase of around $2 million over the estimate that came in with the task force report in December.
Muenich also gave the board the approximate cost of several features that are not included in that high school price including:
Muenich said the estimated cost to build the elementary school had not changed and is estimated at $13.5 million based on the same design as Hudson Prairie Elementary School.
In response to a question from board member Cindy Crimmins regarding whether ATS&R would get the contract to build the schools if a referendum passed, Muenich said no. He went on to say that no architectural drawings had been done by the firm or anyone else and that there was no contract in place for any work beyond the scope of the task force assignment. He also said that their work on the task force did not mean they would automatically get any building contract, but that their bid would be considered along with others according to board procedure.
Board member Nancy Donovan repeated her concerns that the core areas, halls, cafeteria, etc., be built to accommodate more than an additional 200 students, saying that would not be responsible in light of the rate of growth in the district as projected over the next five years.
There was also some discussion about the possibility of enrollment going up to 2,200 at the high school over the next 10 years. Board member Mark Kaisersatt said those projections are "too far out into the future" to be considered. He and other board members voiced concern over the wisdom of having a high school with an enrollment over 2,000.
Board member Priscilla Wyeth said she believed the board had learned from experience with the current high school that they need to make common areas large enough to accommodate growth without overcrowding.
Muenich told the board that he trusted the numbers that his committee has received from ATS&R but said the board is "not locked into them." Donovan added that the board has not yet decided whether to build a new high school but the updated information Muenich provided is necessary to help them make their decision.
Superintendent Ron Bernth advised the board that a consulting firm, Decision Resources of Minneapolis, was currently conducting a scientifically based random survey of school district residents for their responses to approximately 50 questions. The questions cover a variety of topics including school financing, the task force building proposal, potential property tax increases from a referendum and some specific questions about each building proposal. The results are expected to be presented at a special April 21 board meeting.
Tension at meeting
Bernth said the survey will get responses from a large cross-section of residents, 400-500. "We regularly hear from the same critics and the same supporters at these meetings and in letters and elsewhere. But this survey will provide us information from some new sources that perhaps fall between those two perspectives."
One of those critics, Marion Shaw, commented at the meeting following Muenich's report and characterized much of the board and task force work over the past year as "pandering and political grandstanding." Shaw advised the board to forget the survey and go immediately to a referendum. He said the demographic data used by the task force was dated and if they were sure that enrollment would stay on the rise and that more space was needed, they should take the issue to the public immediately.
Donovan said the board and task force had taken the steps outlined previously in an effort to get more public input and information following last year's unsuccessful referendum. Crimmins said she was disappointed by Shaw's reaction, stating he has in the past been such an advocate for more public involvement and more study but now didn't seem to support that. "I don't know how to please you," she said.
Shaw made other comments at the meeting, among them questions he has raised before about the district's general fund balance and about $4.5 million he says is unaccounted for by the district.
Donovan said Shaw's questions regarding both issues have been repeatedly discussed and answered in prior meetings. She added that the board has already said some of the fund balance would likely be used to offset any building referendum.
Muenich and Donovan both took issue specifically with Shaw's questions about the $4.5 million, saying the allegation that the money is missing or unaccounted for is not true. In a brief exchange with Shaw about the issue, Crimmins and Wyeth said they took issue with the implication that they were lying about the so-called unaccounted-for money and that regular district audits have never turned up any missing or misappropriated funds.
Shaw also objected to the time set aside for citizens to address the board on an issue not on the agenda being followed by administration response to any issues raised. Shaw said he did not come to board meetings to hear from administrators but from board members.
Bernth responded by saying the administration acts as an extension of the board when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the district and that it is appropriate for the administration to respond to many of those questions. Bernth said that for a time he didn't respond initially when Shaw and others raised questions and were critical of the board or district, but that he believed the public may have misinterpreted that to mean the administration did not have an answer.
"That's why we put administrative comments (on the agenda). The public wants to know that we know what we are doing - and we do know what we are doing."
Meg Heaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org