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To the voters

To the voters To the voters

Medford School Board seeks $39.9 million for high school renovations

A proposed $39.9 million high school renovation project will go to voters.

Members of the Medford School Board voted unanimously to approve putting a referendum question on the Nov. 3 general election ballot asking voters to approve the plan.

The proposed project includes the construction of additional classroom space with focus on science, technology, art and mathematics areas as well as reconfiguring the existing library space and current theater space into collaboration areas, expansion of the school office with security upgrades for the building entrance, and the construction of a new 500-seat theater and a gym on the west side of the building. According to district finance director Audra Brooks, the projected tax impact of a $39.9 million project is estimated at $53 a year on a $100,000 home. This is about $25 less than the projected cost that was included in the survey question sent out in the spring. It is based on an estimated 3% interest rates. This interest rate is considered a conservative number given the strong demand for municipal debt issues in the bond market.

The actual net impact to taxpayers could also be reduced because the district has kept the tax rate stable in order to pay off debt faster rather then lower it last year. Depending on how the potential new debt is structured, the impact to taxpayers could be reduced.

The district has been working with a team of designers and engineers from Findorff/Plunkett Raysich Architects (PRA) to develop the plans to renovate the high school. The group did a space analysis for the building to identify needs, held a series of public sessions seeking community input to identify priorities and last spring conducted a district-wide survey asking for the potential support level of a project. From that survey, the district was able to identify a target level for the size of a project that voters might support.

Last month, the design team met with the board and presented a number of options for possible designs. At that meeting board members called for the removal of traffic islands and excessive concrete features in the parking lot as a cost-saving measure, noting they just make snow removal more difficult. They were also given a firm directive to get the projected cost below the $40 million that the survey shows a majority of voters would support.

The plan presented at Monday’s school board meeting met those requests and included additional design changes with hallway placement and traffic flows to bring the proposal to the $39.9 million proposed. “We looked at every space to be the right size for what the programs would be,” said Ken Turba of PRA. He gave the example of the proposed increase in cafeteria seating while not expanding the footprint of the serving area.

The proposed gym would be a one-station gym with walking track and space for up to 600 bleacher seats.

“I was impressed with the new layout,” said board member Dede Strama.

Board member Barb Knight questioned the size of the theater in comparison to the existing Red White Theatre at the high school. She noted the current stage cannot accommodate a full choir and accompanist.

Turba responded that the proposed new theater will be able to do that with a stage that is significantly larger than what is currently in place.

District administrator Pat Sullivan praised the design team for coming back with the target the board asked for and for bringing it in under the $40 million level.

In a series of formal motions, board members approved sending the referendum question to voters. It will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

In other business, board members:

_ Received an update on the planned graduation ceremony on Friday, Aug. 7. The ceremony will be held in-person and take place outdoors on the track and football field. Tickets for bleacher seating will be limited to ensure the social distancing between family groups. Sullivan noted that it is a rain or shine event with plans to continue even if there is a light drizzle and delay the start if there are storms or lightning.

_ Approved a moratorium not allowing foreign exchange students for the 2020-2021 school year. The district had been approached seeing if they would be interested this year with students interested in coming. “I would be more worried about them, if they come here and can’t go back home,” said board member Steve Deml, noting the travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

_ Approved a code of conduct change that will allow people who would have fulfilled their punishments in the spring season to meet the minimum WIAA penalty of a one game suspension in the fall season because the spring season was cancelled due to COVID-19 and schools being closed. Board members questioned if the suspension could take place later in the season rather than the first game. Athletic director Andy Guden said it has to be the first game under the rule WIAA preventing coaches from picking when suspensions be served.

_ Approved putting $162,034 carryover from the 2019-2020 budget into the post retirement trust fund account. This fund pays for health insurance when teachers and other qualified employees retire in the district. It has been a longstanding benefit. The district had hoped to put more in the trust fund this year, but was unable to do so. “We are falling behind,” said board member Brian Hallgren. He raised the concern that the district would need to do something to remedy this in the future. “It is the age old discussion of how much is enough,” he said.

_ Reviewed the proposed budget. The district received word from the state that equalization aid for the coming year will be $14.76 million, this is up 1.47% from last year. Brooks noted there continues to be a lot of moving parts to school funding that will not be set until October 15.

_ Approved formally stating the district would be following the state’s academic standards. Under Act 55, districts must approve that they will be following the state standards every year.