School Board approves updates to Duluth Red PlanThe plan updates Congdon Park and Myers-Wilkins elementary schools, the last two to be renovated as part of the Duluth school district’s long-range facilities plan, which now totals about $315 million.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Updates to the Red Plan for two Duluth elementary schools and a request for an additional $19 million in borrowing have been approved by the School Board.
The board approved the new plan 6-1, with member Art Johnston opposing it. The plan updates Congdon Park and Myers-Wilkins elementary schools, the last two to be renovated as part of the Duluth school district’s long-range facilities plan, which now totals about $315 million. It was a move requested by the Minnesota Department of Education because according to state statute, the original Red Plan had expired. That happens if construction contracts haven’t been awarded in a two-year span, which was the case for both schools.
The $15.45 million approved by the board in June for increased construction costs was never granted by the state because of the plan’s expiration. The School Board approved that amount Tuesday plus an extra $3.9 million in borrowing which comes from the value of the Secondary Technical Center, four homes the district has for sale and the cost to issue bonds. The property money is rolled in to help the district with cash flow it needs to pay construction costs. When these properties and others such as Central High School sell, the money goes to pay off debt.
Board member Art Johnston listed several concerns he had with the plan, citing a lack of detail in why the price tags of the two schools had grown. Myers-Wilkins is about $20 million and Congdon Park about $15 million, up several million each from original estimates.
“I want to finish Myers-Wilkins and Congdon Park, but I want some accounting,” he said. “Who told the architect to design Myers-Wilkins for $20 million?”
Member Mary Cameron said the plan’s lists of original and updated costs for each item shows the detail, all of which had been before the board.
Member Tom Kasper agreed, noting that for Congdon Park, major increases, such as a secure entry and an autism room, came from safety and learning concerns brought about by parents and staff at the school. And many changes were made for the sake of equity, he said.
“Having been to those meetings and hearing those concerns from the public, I am comfortable with that addition in expense,” Kasper said.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said that additions and changes to both school plans came also from new stakeholders who got involved years after the plans were first formed.
“New people had concerns,” he said. “I think this is very complete in how we got from there to here.”
Other increases have come from unforeseen and rising costs.
Johnston contested the district’s assurance that taxes wouldn’t rise.
“On a simple basis, yes there is a tax impact,” said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for Duluth schools, “but the $19 million stays within the district’s original tax promise.”
To pay for the Red Plan, the owner of a $125,000 home pays about $111 a year and the owner of a $250,000 house about $221 a year, plus $3 a year for the remaining years of the district's 20-year bond, which began in 2008.
Johnston made motions to both table the resolution and to cut the amount requested in half, neither of which gained support.
The 55-page document to be sent to the state describes each item in the two projects, what original estimates were and what they have grown to, and includes new items, such as a new kindergarten room for Congdon Park and a third floor classroom addition at Myers-Wilkins.
The plan will be sent to the state education department for approval. If approved, the district can move forward with advertising construction bids. Depending on approval, construction would begin in late spring or early summer.