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Joe and Patty Schachtner, with architect John Huenink, look at a drawing of the proposed additions to the Somerset High School building following the Jan. 14 special school board meeting when the plan for a $7.95 million referendum was approved.

Somerset referendum seeks $7.95 million

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A $7.95 million referendum has been approved by the Somerset Board of Education, with most of those funds targeted toward three expansions of the current Somerset High School building.

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The referendum will be part of the April 2 general election ballot.

This is the school board's answer to requests from the community to explore all the possibilities of adding onto the current buildings instead of asking to build another new structure.

The additions to the high school target three areas. A six-classroom addition is proposed, along with some remodeling of classrooms and workspaces at the end of the science wing of the building.

An expansion of the food service and music areas is proposed, along with adding more space to the multi-purpose room.

The physical education-athletic wing would also see an expansion, adding locker room space and space in the weight room and wrestling room.

Several capital maintenance projects would also be completed if the referendum passes, including new HVAC controls and a new hot water heater at the high school, redoing the high school parking lot, replacing the middle school boilers and replacing the middle school gym floor, basketball hoops and gym curtain.

The vote on the referendum and the authorization of bonds was held at a Jan. 14 special board meeting. Both votes passed 5-2, with Tom Walters and Kelly Ott casting the dissenting votes each time. Ott said she agreed that a referendum was needed, but said the community hadn't been given ample time for input. Walters agreed with the need for a referendum, but said he had reservations about some of the companies that were hired to work on the project.

The board has been discussing the need for more space at the high school for several years. The high school was built for 400 students, but it is now at 460 students. If the six classrooms are added to the building, it will raise the capacity of the building to 524 students.

Along with the added classrooms, remodeling of four classrooms on the wall behind the library would be done and the bathrooms in that wing would be enlarged.

District administrator Randy Rosburg said the classrooms would answer specific needs for space, with rooms designated for classes of social studies, Spanish, math, reading and physics/Project Lead The Way.

Some of the changes in the food service and music areas depend on whether a third lunch period can be successfully built into the high school schedule. The construction plans call for plans to speed up the food service flow, hoping to add a second food service line. If this is done, more seating will be needed in the multi-purpose room. The wall between the MPR and the music room would be removed and that area would provide additional seating for students at lunch. This would call for additional choir and band rooms to be added onto the building.

If a third lunch period can successfully be built into the schedule, there is the possibility that extra lunch seating would not be required. If that happens, the music room would stay intact and become the choir room. Then, only a band room would be constructed.

Among the construction plans is more storage space in the food service area for frozen and dried goods, along with an expanded area for shipping and receiving.

The changes in the physical education/athletics area would also be done to answer space needs. The wrestling room, which doubles as a physical education classroom, would be expanded. The same goes for the weight room, which is used in several phy ed classes.

A new locker room would be added for use of visiting sports teams. The other locker rooms would also be expanded because there are more students than available lockers.

The capital maintenance projects would address several problem areas in the buildings. The high school has a 900-gallon water heater, which is considered undersized and inefficient and this would provide for an upgrade. The HVAC controls for heating and air conditioning don't maintain steady temperatures. Rosburg said that replacing them with digital controls would maintain the building at a set temperature and should save the district money on utilities.

Resurfacing the high school parking lot has been on the project list for several years, but other priorities have pushed it back.

"The parking lot is cracking and has potholes. It should have been replaced three years ago," Rosburg said.

The middle school gym floor has been having moisture problems for several years that has caused warping and deterioration of the wood flooring. If approved, the floor would be removed, the source of the moisture would be found and dealt with and a new floor would be installed. New bleachers would also be purchased for the gym to replace the current wooden bleachers that have been in the building since 1975. Moving of the basketball hoops and the upgrade of the curtain would allow for two gym classes to be held at the same time.

The school board has scheduled a referendum at this time because the final payments on the high school are scheduled to be made in 2014. If this referendum passes, the same level of funds would go toward this project, at a slightly lower level. As currently projected, Somerset taxpayers would see an estimated drop of $18 per $100,000 of property value if the referendum passes.

"This is a good short range solution," Rosburg said. He explained that if enrollment grows at a 2 percent rate, the high school wouldn't reach capacity for six years. If it increases at 1 percent, it wouldn't reach capacity for 12 years.

"Open enrollment is the variable. It could fill up faster like the elementary did in 2003," Rosburg said.

When the school board passed the referendum, it was done with an eye to the future. With the Stillwater Bridge due for completion in 2016, it remains unknown how much, or whether, the population will grow after that.

"If census date comes true, we could double by 2023," Rosburg said.

He said if that does happen, a new high school will need to be built. He said the proposed additions to the current high school would all be needed if the building would become a middle school in the future.

The school board will begin working on its timeline for communicating information on the referendum to the community in the upcoming weeks. Anyone interested in being on a referendum task force can contact Rosburg at the school district administrative office.

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Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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