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People see the need for $12 million expansion at Berthold School

In two and a half weeks, patrons in the Lewis & Clark School District will determine whether or not the district can go into debt and issue bonds for about $12 million to complete a renovation and expansion project for Berthold Public School.

12/21/11 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

In two and a half weeks, patrons in the Lewis & Clark School District will determine whether or not the district can go into debt and issue bonds for about $12 million to complete a renovation and expansion project for Berthold Public School.

And so far, Lewis & Clark District superintendent Brian Nelson likes what he hears from the public about that vote.

“There’s a lot of support for the project,” he said. “People do see there’s a need for this.”

Nelson and members of the Lewis & Clark school board held six meetings throughout the district in November to show the proposed changes to taxpayers and to answer questions and hear concerns about the project. According to Nelson, some of the meetings scheduled outside of Berthold were attended by few people, although residents in those communities will also be voting on the bond issue.

“When I talk to people one-on-one in those places, everybody knows there’s a need,” Nelson said.

Lewis & Clark school board president Mike Lautenschlager said he had guarded optimism about the success of the bond issue after the six sessions.

“The people who attended were interested in us solving the problems we’re facing,” he said.

Those problems include overcrowded classrooms, office, library, hallways, cafeteria and kitchen, and completely inadequate areas to work with students identified for assistance through Title or Special Education programs.

The proposal, designed by Don Davison of Davison Larson Architects in Minot, calls for 12,700 square feet of new high school classroom space, 7,400 square feet of elementary classroom space, 6,200 square feet for a cafeteria commons space, and a 20,120 square-foot multi-purpose area with gymnasium seating for 1,300 people and two new locker rooms.

In addition, the current cafeteria, high school classrooms and administration area would be renovated. The proposed changes would provide room to accommodate up to 200 additional students.

“One of the questions we do hear is ‘Why aren’t you building it bigger?’” Nelson said.

That question has been raised in response to discussions about a possible housing development proposed for Berthold.

“The building project north of town kept coming up at our meetings,” said Lautenschlager. “But we’re considering our present needs. As far as the development goes, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it, but we need to address what’s real and what we know is facing us at the present time.”

Nelson reminded patrons that, according to state law, the district is limited as to the amount of debt it can incur. Those limitations, at five percent of the district’s assessed valuation without voter approval and an additional five percent with voter approval, would allow the Lewis & Clark School District to borrow a maximum of approximately $15 million if the bond issue for the renovation and building project passes.

The approximate assessed valuation of the Lewis & Clark School District at this time is $151 million.

Lower bond rates
are good news
Nelson was pleased to receive information about recent bond sales for projects planned in other school districts around the region. Ray School District secured a rate of 2.52 percent for 20 years, while the low bid for a Minot Public School District project came in at 2.61 percent.

“Dickinson and Hazen have low rates, too,” said Nelson. “We’ve been saying 3.5 percent as we’ve talked about our bond issue, but we might be estimating too high. That’s almost a whole percentage lower, and that’s only good news for us!”

Additional space in Berthold
will not
close other schools
The only negative response to the proposal has come from patrons in the Ryder and Makoti areas, where Nelson said some parents who have been opposed to the consolidated Lewis & Clark School District from its inception have submitted a petition to annex their properties to the Max School District.

“They’re telling people around there that we’re going to close all the schools and force the students to go to Berthold,” Nelson said. “They’re not opposed to the bond issue itself. They just don’t want to be in this school district.”

Superintendent Nelson emphasized the bond issue will not automatically result in the closure of any other schools in the district. “We always have discussions about how to educate our kids and give them the best opportunities,” he said, “and there seem to be one or two sets of parents each year who are moving their kids to Berthold because of the courses that are available there.”

He pointed out the district has the authority to close schools, as deemed necessary, at any time. “We can always have a conversation about how to the meet the needs of our kids, and the district may have this conversation years in the future,” he said. “In the meantime, we have a district to run.”

Election on
January 9, 2012
The board has approved a special election to be held Monday, January 9, 2012, with two questions on the ballot for voters within the Lewis & Clark School District, which includes portions of Ward, Renville, Mountrail and McLean counties.

The first question asks if the school district shall issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $12 million for the purpose of the building, renovation and remodeling proposal.

The second question asks if the debt limit for the district shall be increased five percent, on the assessed value of the district’s taxable property, beyond the five percent allowed by the state constitution.

Polls will be open January 9th from 7 am until 7 pm at the senior citizens centers in Berthold, Carpio, Plaza, Makoti and Ryder for the election. The school district’s business manager should be contacted at the Berthold school before the election for information about voting by absentee ballot.

Nelson is hoping to see at least 400 votes turned in from parents and grandparents of Berthold students to support the project.

“Make sure you get out and vote for this thing,” he said. “If you’re for it, you have to express that.”

Lautenschlager said he hopes board members and representatives from the Berthold Public School have done a good job in spreading the word about the project and bond issue. “We encourage people to vote,” he said. “This is the time for people to exercise their option to support it or not support it, and let their voice be heard.”

Persons with further questions about the building project or the special election should contact Lewis & Clark School District Superintendent Brian Nelson at 701-453-3484.

A display with the proposed building plans is available for public view at the Berthold School.