The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 3, 2014

St. Peter moves forward with new high school plans

Bond referendum likely to go before voters spring 2015

By Amanda Dyslin
The Mankato Free Press

---- — St. Peter Public Schools officials updated the School Board Monday night during a study session on plans for building projects that would include a new high school.

The $55 million bond proposal has come about due to continued growth in the St. Peter community that has caused overcrowding in the elementary level that will continue to filter up through the grades, said Supt. Jeff Olson.

The district has a projected growth of 1 to 2 percent annually over the next 10 years, which would add about 300 students to the district’s current 1,900 student population.

“We think that number is probably quite conservative,” Olson said.

The district has been working with design firm I&S Group and financial adviser Springsted Inc. to develop preliminary plans for the building projects and financial aspects. The next step, to begin shortly, will be surveying the community regarding potential support for a bond, which the district is hoping to put to voters March 10, 2015.

The 185,000-square-foot high school would be located on the west side of St. Peter near Traverse Road on 84 acres of land the district already owns, said St. Peter Middle/High School Principal Paul Peterson.

The building would have a 700-student capacity, but would have a 1,000-student capacity in the cafeteria and other common areas to allow for growth.

The I&S Group plans also include a 700-seat performing arts space and a three-station gymnasium.

In addition to the building, tennis courts, practice fields, baseball/softball fields and a soccer/football field would be built on the site. Some secondary programs would continue at the current high school facility, including automotive and building trades, among other things.

About 20 acres of land would be left over on the new high school building site for future development.

The other buildings in the district would be reconfigured and upgraded to meet the learning needs of the new grade configurations.

Kindergarten and first grade would be at South Elementary Early Learning Center; grades 2-4 would be at North Intermediate; and grades 5-8 would attend the current middle/high school. Preschool, community education and district offices would also be housed at the current middle/high school building.

The Minnesota Valley Education District (MVED) building — which provides educational services such as special education, gifted and talented and long-distance learning — will remain at its current location and receive some remodeling and upgrades.

Patricia Heminover, a client representative at Springsted Inc., provided an early rough estimate of the tax impact of a $55 million bond. She said the taxes on the average $150,000 homestead would increase $240 per year, or $20 per month.

However, Heminover said, a number of variables will change that number as the building plans move forward, including interest rate fluctuation; whether all of the project is bonded all at once; and the scale and cost of the project could change based on community survey responses, among other things.

The new building and reconfiguration of the other buildings would mean the district would no longer have to lease or rent space, such as gymnastics space at the Armory and fields at Gustavus Adolphus College, among other things. That would save the district about $100,000 per year, Olson said.

The $55 million bond would include:

n Building costs — new high school, $36 million; repurpose current building for a 5-8 middle school, $1.5 million; relocate early learning and community education to current middle/high building, $700,000; revisions to South, $825,000; revisions at North, $250,000; pool repairs at current middle/high school, $700,000; and MVED improvements and upgrades, $500,000.

n Site work costs — new high school site development, $4.4 million; and revisions at current middle/high school building, $250,000.

n Other project costs — fees, permits, testing, survey, bond and finance costs, $5.9 million; furnishings, fixtures, equipment, technology and security, $1.6 million; and a project contingency of $2.3 million.

Olson said the improvements, added space and new facilities would open up a number of partnerships with the city, which many schools are doing more of these days.

“We really want to partner and work with the city of St. Peter (and Gustavus),” Olson said.

Fall of 2007 was the last time major changes took place at South and North to deal with the population boom. A $1.2 million five-classroom addition was built onto North, which allowed the school to take third grade away from South.

This year, in grades K-6, there are only two grades with fewer than 150 kids. This year’s kindergarten class has 165 students, which would have been about 180 had some not been pulled out for the Ready for Kindgarten program.

Olson said families with parents who are ages 25 to 40 are the fastest-growing demographic in St. Peter.

According to the current time line for the project, the first community forum will be held March 18, with details forthcoming; the architect for the project will be chosen May 19; the referendum information plan will be completed by Nov. 18; and the bond referendum will be held March 10, 2015.