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School board debates potential ISC renovations

FARMINGTON — In a split vote, Farmington School Board approved moving forward with gathering plans and bids for potential renovations to the Instructional Services Center.

The building, located at 510 Walnut St., is the oldest school building. It was built more than a century ago to serve as the original school in town.

After an hour debate, School Board members voted 4-2 to move forward with renovation plans during its Feb. 25 meeting. Board members who voted in favor were Jacilyn Doyle, Julie Singewald, Jake Cordes and Rebecca Kaletta. Board members Steve Corraro and Melissa Sauser voted against moving forward, citing high taxes and needing to get more questions answered.

In need of information

Corraro asked for more detailed information about the ISC renovations during a Feb. 11 work session.

"I red flagged this and I wanted to understand the tax impact," Corraro said. "They weren't sure and they said they did not yet have documentation on it."

The board finance committee said it was fine but that information was not shared with the entire board, Corraro said.

"I want to have all the information so I can make a good decision for the taxpayers," he added. "The question I have is why did the school board have information and they did not share it with the rest of the board?"

Corraro said he could not access the board agenda information via the online board books. He said he notified the board chair on the Thursday prior to the board meeting. Corraro said he did not feel comfortable voting on the ISC renovations without reading all the board packet information.

During the meeting, Corraro shared his most recent tax statement and said he pays more than $1,600 a year to fund the school district's portion of his property taxes. Corraro also questioned the investment and upgrades with collaborative learning furniture purchased for classrooms across school district buildings.

"Why did we spend money on the innovation zones and the learning centers?" Corraro said. "Dan Miller did a great job of saving us money from all the facility projects but where is all that money?"

Board protocol

Sauser cited a "severe lack of communication" between board members. She explained how the board protocol put in place a couple years ago was that before every meeting board members would submit questions to the chair, the superintendent and any other staff to get answers prior to school board meetings.

The Friday prior to the last school board meeting, Sauser submitted questions to the chair, the superintendent, finance director and facility manager. She was able to sit down with the district operations manager and district finance director prior to the meeting. They answered many of her questions, but she still had more concerns.

"The question I have is when did the finance committee discuss the $10 million bond that will max out the long-term maintenance facility levy?" Sauser said.

The finance and long-range planning committee serves as a subcommittee of Farmington School Board.

"Another question I have is can we fix the current needs of the building without increasing the levy?" she said. "The bottom line ... is those state funds are still taxpayer dollars, and everything we do is with taxpayer dollars."

Moving forward

The total early estimate cost on the renovation project is just over $10.4 million and the projections point to about 47 percent that may come from a levy and 53 percent from state aid or long-term facilities dollars.

The School Board's approval signals a move forward with the process. The board will still review and weigh-in on plans, bids and decide whether or not to give final approval to the overall project in the months to come.

Dan Miller, district director of operations, said one of the building's boilers is not functioning and the other boiler has outlasted its tenure. It may be a short time until the remaining boiler stops working.

The renovation plan also calls for a new HVAC system to be installed.

The 106-year-old ISC building houses food services offices, the local food shelf, many community education programs like gymnastics and special education classrooms.

If the School Board approves future bids and the project moves forward, Miller said phase one would begin this September and run into January 2020.

Besides mechanical upgrades, the building would see interior renovations to the bathrooms to make them ADA compliant. Remodeling will take place in the cafeteria and kitchen spaces and interior spaces would see new carpet.

Phase two of the project would tackle the newer sections of the building and these renovations would run from February 2020 into July 2020.

Since the meeting is open, anyone can show up at the meeting to listen and an audio version of the meeting is recorded by district staff and can be accessed by the public.

Haugen responds to LTFM funding questions

Farmington District 192 Superintendent Jay Haugen offered further clarification to address questions surrounding the funding for the Instructional Service Center renovation plan.

"I can bring clarity especially for all those questions," Haugen said. "We (school districts) do not get to increase our levy except by going to the voters. We are the only unit of government that has the ability to do that."

Haugen reminded the School Board how it fought for this language to seek the long-term facility maintenance funds.

"The top-20 sized school districts in the state get to levy for their facilities ... and the rest of the 300-plus districts need to get approval from the voters," Haugen said.

Moving forward with the LTFM funding would keep District 192 from going to the voters which it should not have to do, Haugen said. The LTFM dollars are designed for districts to maintain school buildings so a district does not need to go to voters via another levy.

"We start making choices when do not have enough money ... deferred maintenance that will cost us more later," Haugen said.

In recent years District 192 has invested in a new roof and tuckpointing on the ISC building.

The board approval is just to get the process started, Haugen said, and means the district will seek bids for the work. The School Board can decide to accept or reject the bids that come in the next few months.

The School Board can also look into other ways to fund the ISC renovations, Haugen said.

"This is not the only way to fund it. We could come up with other ways to fund it but here is a pathway we think is worth starting down and here is a project we think we want to do in this building."