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Voters to possibly decide fate of nearly $4 million project

A major hurdle in a District 818 building bond referendum was crossed Monday evening as the Verndale school board received an official recommendation from their community-led task force and approved it for action.

The task force, which was represented by Brenda Weniger, Chris Youngbauer and Mike Lovelace, recommended Option G5 to the board, one of the 15 different building options they reviewed. If the Minnesota Department of Education gives the proposal a green light, district voters will be going to the polls Aug. 14 to vote on the $3,995,000 option.

Approval of the plan will place a 20,560-square foot addition on the west side of the existing K-12 school. Work would start in late winter of the 2012-2013 school year.

The school board hoped to limit the cost of an addition to $3.4 million, but the task force said in order to do the project right they needed to recommend a larger option, which includes financing costs of the plan. The actual amount available for project costs will be $3,998,837.

Option G5 addresses many, but not all, of Verndale's needs. The gymnasium would have two regulation-size courts, side-by-side, for practice sessions. The gym could be converted into a single court for game situations. There would be seating for up to 900. The school's present gym was built in 1965.

The addition would also include locker rooms, separate band and choir rooms, storage space, band and choir practice rooms and a concessions area with a lobby for congregating groups. The new rooms would allow for the rennovation of existing class rooms.

The task force met once a week over a six-week period. Their final meeting was held May 31.

The Verndale school board got the ball rolling in March, when R.A. Morton was chosen to lead the building effort. Interior architectural designs have been provided by SGN Wendel, and financing of the project would be handled through Ehlers Public Finance.

District 818 has a bond that is due to be paid in full in 2013. A new bond, if approved by the voters, would be set up for 20 years.

The board approved going with a 20-year payment plan if the bond passes. Brownlow pointed out it will ask taxpayers to begin paying on the bond in 2013.

"We could have kept the tax impact the same with another option. However, with that option, we would have had to extend the option another five years, so it became a 25-year bond, which would cost the taxpayers an additional $500,000 in interest," Brownlow said.

Brownlow said the average tax increase per year to a family owning a $100,000 house in the Verndale district has been computed at $19 a year. Landowners in the district looking for a computation on their taxes are encouraged to contact Ehlers.

R.A. Morton President Preston Euerle said the option approved by the board Monday was a good one.

"It does address the larger items of need, but it doesn't cover everything," Euerle said. "If money were no object, it would have been a significantly larger project, maybe even double the one approved."

Euerle praised the task force for its sincerity in dealing with the many different options.

"This task force I think did an excellent job of asking 'is this the right thing to do?'" Euerle said. "This is a good 20-year plan."