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Gym concerns may have affected Verndale vote

Concerns regarding the addition of another gymnasium to the Verndale School may have been the main reason for the defeat of a $3.995 million building bond proposal Tuesday, in a 300-252 vote by District 818 residents.

Voters in the city of Verndale favored the measure 84-74, but it was defeated in six of seven Wadena County townships. Landowners and commercial businesses in the district were being asked to shoulder a larger portion of new taxes that would come with the project.

The building bond would have added a gymnasium with two courts, locker rooms, a choir room, a band room, practice rooms for music students, a concessions area and storage space to the present building. Existing facilities within the building would have been changed or upgraded.

Some are convinced a new gymnasium was a deal breaker.

"It was gym, gym, gym," Task Force Member and Election Official Chris Youngbauer said after Tuesday's vote.

The Verndale School presently has two gyms. The main gym was built in 1965. The smaller gym dates back to 1934, and is used as a practice facility and cafeteria.

School officials are projecting an enrollment of 470 students this fall. About half of the student body is made up of open-enrolled students.

"The scope of this project was well beyond just a gymnasium," Verndale School Board Member Bill Blaha said. "Even though the advocates coming from the 'Vote No' perspective really focused in on that, the reality was we were addressing some other academic types of activities. Those problems didn't go away for us just because the vote failed, so it's unfortunate that all of the chatter was about the gymnasium exclusively, when the reality was we were trying to address a number of additional more academic-based issues."

Verndale Superintendent Paul Brownlow has to turn his full attention on preparing for the first day of school Sept. 4, but he knows there is interest in another vote.

"I do know the 'Vote Yes' people have already been in a little bit saying, 'Hey, we've got to keep this going. What are we going to do?' but I think that is what the board has to reflect on," Brownlow said.

Blaha anticipates meeting with representatives of R.A. Morton, the St. Cloud building contractor that has spearheaded the project, before the question is put before district voters again.

"To me is only makes sense if we were (to) go back to the project and revisit what we think are the issues and do some kind of a remodel on the project itself to address those concerns, before we took it back to the voters," Blaha said.