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District 2155 voters pass both WDC ballot questions

Election official Rosemary Kostrzewski conferred with Wadena-Deer Creek Superintendent Lee Westrum Tuesday evening at Memorial Auditorium after voting hours ended. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal1 / 3
Alex Schmidt, a recent graduate of Wadena-Deer Creek High School, prepared to vote for the first time Tuesday afternoon at Memorial Auditorium. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal2 / 3
The Rev. Allen Refsland, acting with other election judges in the voting at Memorial Auditorium in Wadena, gave Mary Ann Erckenbrack a sticker Tuesday morning after the Wadena resident cast her ballot on two questions regarding the Wadena-Deer Creek Schools. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal3 / 3

District 2155 residents came up with the votes needed to pass both questions of an operating levy and building bond ballot Tuesday at Memorial Auditorium in Wadena.

A total of 957 voters from the communities of Wadena, Deer Creek and Bluffton turned out on a cold and sunny November day. Election judges also received 56 absentee ballots.

Two questions were put to voters on the ballot. The first dealt with increasing the per-pupil operating levy of $513.29 to $863.29. The second question dealt with an additional $5.3 million in taxpayer money needed to improve health and safety by upgrades to the WDC Elementary School.

"It's just an incredible thing," District 2155 School Board Chairman Kent Schmidt said. "It's going to help the community and our school."

Question No. 1 passed by a vote of 612-393, while Question No. 2 passed 633-378. The voting results will remain unofficial until the school board canvasses them next Wednesday at noon in the district office.

"I'd just like to thank our communities for the great support they give our school and the trust the put in us to carry out our facilities plan and educate their children," Wadena-Deer Creek Superintendent Lee Westrum said. "I'm amazed by the support the communities give the kids."

Prior to the Nov. 7 vote, the tax impact per month of Question No. 1 was set at $5.50 per month on a home valued at $100,000. Voters were informed the tax impact of Question No. 2 would be $3.25 per month. If both questions passed, the combined tax impact per month would be $8.25.

Question No. 1's passage was needed to keep class sizes at their current levels. Other factors included heating and cooling costs, internet access, books and salaries for teachers and staff.

Question No. 2's passage will ensure a number of upgrades needed inside and outside the elementary school and in the adjoining Memorial Auditorium, which is the oldest part of the building dating back to 1934.

The Wadena-Deer Creek School Board elected to ask for the $5.3 million building bond vote because some portions of the WDC Elementary School have been used for decades and need attention and modernization. The main portion of the school dates back to 1953.

The school board had already voted to put $9.45 million into the WDC Elementary building before the Nov. 7 balloting. A portion of those dollars ($3,630,000) comes from the state's Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Fund. Ehlers Financial sold $9.45 million in general obligation facilities maintenance bonds for the district in September.

A large portion of the money will be used to improve the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and indoor air quality of the elementary school. The building's heating system will be converted from steam to hot water heat.

District 2155 teamed up with the engineering firm of Foster, Jacobs and Johnson last February to put their plans in motion. FJJ associates went looking for the priorities of community members, parents of WDC students and WDC faculty members to augment their own ideas.

Westrum went on record as saying he weighed the question of updating the old elementary school or building a new one. The elementary building's auditorium and gymnasium were the biggest reasons for upgrading. Both are heavily used by the district.

The district has an agreement with the city of Wadena to pay 29 percent of the debt service on improvements to Memorial Auditorium.

Acting as election judges were Rosalie Miller, Gwen Macklem, Vicki Berninga, Soledad Henriksen, Lucy Andres, Rosemary Kostrzewski and Rev. Allen Refsland.