MAPLETON — A new school finally will be built for all of the students in the Maple River School District.

Residents of the southern Blue Earth County school district approved a bond referendum Tuesday by a 10-vote margin. There were 1,036 votes in support and 1,026 votes in opposition.

The referendum authorizes a $63.3 million bond to build a 185,000 square-foot school on a new site off Highway 7 south in Mapleton.

The new school will house preschool through 12th grade. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2021 and the school likely will open in the fall of 2022.

The district’s three existing school buildings will either be demolished or sold for private reuse.

With interest and other financing costs, the new school will cost an estimated $106 million over the 30-year duration of the bond.

A new tax credit for agricultural property owners will ultimately pay over half of the cost. The state is now paying for a large portion of farmers’ tax bills for school building referendums. The subsidy is increasing 5-10% each year until it reaches 70% in 2023.

After the credit, Maple River’s farmers will pay for 27% of the cost. Residential and commercial property owners will pay for 22%, according to district estimates.

For a farmer in the Maple River District with agricultural land valued at $6,000 an acre, passage of the referendum would increase taxes by $7.63 an acre in 2021. For 2023 and beyond the increase would be $5.08 an acre, according to district estimates.

Homeowners will see an estimated increase of $203 annually for a home valued at $100,000 and $511 for a home valued at $200,000.

Property owners can use a tax impact calculator on the district website to estimate the tax increase for their property.

District leaders have said the consolidation will improve students’ learning environment while increasing efficiency and eliminating the need for substantial building maintenance.

A facilities study found the existing schools need around $32 million in maintenance, accessibility and security updates.

A single, more energy-efficient school is estimated to save over $350,000 in annual operating costs.

Referendum opponents questioned whether the existing buildings are as in dire need of repair and proponents suggest and have said the cost of building a new school is too high for a small district that is seeing declining enrollment. Other concerns included no longer having a school in Good Thunder or Minnesota Lake and worry that a future legislature could discontinue the farmers tax credit.

Three prior referendum requests failed — in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

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