It's down to the voters

Body: 

The future of Wadena-Deer Creek's schools, staff members and students will be placed in the hands of District 2155 voters Nov. 7.

Two questions will be put to voters on the ballot. The first deals with increasing the per pupil operating levy of $513.29 to $863.29. The last operating levy was passed in 2009. The second question deals with an additional $5.3 million in tax money needed to improve health and safety by upgrades to the WDC Elementary School.

The tax impact per month of Question No. 1 would be $5.50 per month on a home valued at $100,000. Question No. 2 would have a $3.25 impact per month. If both questions are passed the combined tax impact per month would be $8.25.

Question No. 1's passage is sought in order to keep class sizes at their present levels. Teacher and staff salaries, internet access, books, building heating and cooling costs would also be affected.

Question No. 2's passage could fix a myriad of shortcomings both inside and outside the district's aging elementary school and in the adjoining Memorial Auditorium.

While District 2155 has one of the newest middle and senior high schools in the state, portions of the WDC Elementary School just down the street along Colfax Avenue, has seen many decades of use.

District 2155 engaged the engineering firm of Foster, Jacobs and Johnson in helping put the wheels in motion last February.

FJJ associates went to work in a methodical fashion get an idea of priorities from community members, parents of WDC students and WDC faculty members to augment their own ideas.

Two dozen adults toured the WDC Elementary Monday led by FJJ Project Development Manager Jason Splett. Elementary Principal Louis Rutten, who has been a WDC administrator since 2003, was also on the tour along with several school board members. Splett gave the group an overview of the deficiencies FJJ hopes to correct with enough voter support.

They include:

• Creating a safer pick-up and drop-off area on Dayton Avenue.

• Installing a secure entrance to the school along with video surveillance system.

• Upgrading and repairing the buildings electrical system.

• Replacing a defective public address system.

• Repairing and replacing old roofing and inefficient windows.

• Expanding parking and improving the school's playgrounds.

• Renovating the school cafeteria.

• Adding restrooms and making them handicap accessible.

• Preserving Memorial Auditorium, built in 1934.

Two of the people taking the tour Monday were Braden and Carrie Halvorson. The couple, who have a second grader, a preschooler and a two-year-old were in agreement that changes are in order.

"It's needed," Braden said. "It just needs to be researched."

The tour was a trip down Memory Lane for Dave Evans, Wadena's Electric and Water Superintendent. Evans went to school at WDC Elementary more than 40 years ago. Many parts of his alma mater were still familiar.

"It looks the same," Evans said. ""I think structurally it's very sound. I am sure the HVAC system needs some work."

Following the tour, the group was taken to the Elementary School's Media Center where WDC Superintendent Lee Westrum was waiting with a boatload of facts. Westrum has been the school board's main spokesman, and when asked why the district does not build a new elementary he had answers or knew who to direct them to.

"It was pretty overwhelming that investing in this building was what people thought we ought to do," Westrum said. "The staff really like this building, and so they feel strongly about updating it."

Westrum has rough plans on hand for construction of an elementary wing to the district's 2012 middle/senior high.

Westrum did not duck the question when asked about the efficiency of maintaining staff at two sites.

"There are efficiencies to be had by being on one site," Westrum said. "I think we would have to add a gym, we would have to add another cafeteria."

Westrum told the group he weighed the question of updating the old or building new and it came down to "the auditorium and the gym are here, and they aren't going away."

Both are heavily used by the district.

District 2155 will be putting $9.45 million into the WDC Elementary building regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 7 vote. A portion of the dollars ($3,630,000) comes from the state's Long-Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) Fund. This amount will not result in a tax increase. In September, Ehlers Financial sold $9.45 million in general obligation facilities maintenance bonds for the district.

A large portion of the money will be used to improve the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) of the elementary school. The building will be converted from steam heat to 100 percent hot water system.

"This is a heavy mechanical project," Westrum said. "It's to upgrade the mechanical systems in the school to modern standards."

Westrum, who has secured an agreement with the city of Wadena to pay 29 percent of the debt service on improvements to Memorial Auditorium, has another meeting similar to Monday's, scheduled in Deer Creek next Monday evening.

"I'm optimistic because I think it's a reasonable plan," Westrum said. "We're in a really good spot because a brand new middle school high school is paid for. This is no debt service on this new building, and because of this, it allows us to invest in our elementary school. The bottom line is that you have to invest in your building and your infrastructure."

For more details to https://improvingwdc.org/