Hermantown voters approve $48.9 million plan to build, revamp school buildingsVoters in the Hermantown school district approved a $48.9 million bond referendum Tuesday that will build a new high school, upgrade school safety and turn the current high school building into a middle school.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Voters in the Hermantown school district approved a $48.9 million bond referendum Tuesday that will build a new high school, upgrade school safety and turn the current high school building into a middle school.
Supporters of the building plan won with a 54.4 percent to 45.6 percent margin, although both camps had to wait longer than expected for results because of long lines of voters as polls closed.
The referendum failed in townships within the school district by 116 votes but won in the city by 475 votes.
The ballot question asked voters whether the school district should spend $48.9 million for a package of projects including building a new high school connected to the old one via shared spaces. The 76-year-old middle school probably will be torn down, according to district leadership.
The plan includes updates and an addition on the elementary school to add fourth grade, more kindergarten space and a gym, as well as security and technology updates throughout the schools.
“This is a great thing for the kids and the community,” Brad Johnson, Hermantown superintendent, said when the results were tallied. “We were very fortunate to have a groundswell of community support for this, and so many people work so hard.”
Johnson said the district will develop a “path forward” on how to build and that he hopes to break ground next summer.
The district estimates the property tax impact will be about a $381-per-year increase for a $200,000 home.
After a $58 million referendum failed, 82 percent to 18 percent, supporters regrouped and developed the Hawk Pride campaign to gain support for this year’s pared-down building plan. More than 200 volunteers were involved, gaining the backing of community and business leaders and reaching out to property owners through advertising and informational efforts.
The middle school has mold, heating, boiler and ventilation issues. The basement has areas of free-standing water, and one recreation space has been closed since the June 2012 flood. Staff and students complain of allergies and asthma.
The district’s buildings are considered about 30 percent undersized by state guidelines for its 2,015 students. Because of that, all-day, every-day kindergarten can’t be offered. The elementary school gym and cafeteria are a shared space, meaning one lunch period lasts five minutes to accommodate an incoming physical education class, said Natalie Peterson, one of the planners of the $48.9 million overhaul. The high school is considered officially undersized.
Still, opponents said the $48.9 million plan was too rich, saying a referendum of about half of that would suffice. Warren Berg, a Hermantown district resident who opposed the levy increase, said the effects on property taxpayers will be greater than the district claims.
“I knew it would be a close vote. But they had the organization and we didn’t and that’s what won it,” Berg said. “This is going to impact our community for the next 25 years, and people are going to be feeling it” each year they pay their property taxes.