By Barbie Porter
Competitive bids, low interest rates, allowed the Frazee-Vergas School District to stretch the dollar and tackle additional projects this past summer by utilizing bond funds. Now, the school board is in early discussions of where focus should be for future projects.
During the Budget and Facilities Committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16 board members Tyler Trieglaff and Nathan Matejka met with Karger about potential upcoming projects.
The school track was identified as needing work. Karger said it expired in 2016. Replacing the track has been discussed for some time by the past few boards. While the district has patched it up several times, the wear is apparent with deep cracks showing. To pay for the project, Karger said a lease levy could be reviewed as one option.
The group then considered the rest of the complex, such as the scoreboard, lights and press box. Considerations were given to teaming up with Scheels, Essentia or other businesses for potential donations or grant funding to tackle some of the project cost.
Shifting gears to the elementary, the committee discussed repurposing an unused room for a hands-on learning activity center. The focus would be science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or commonly referred to as STEM.
Karger said the vacant room was once a computer lab. Now that each student has an assigned computer, the room is no longer used.
Consideration for funding the STEM room was to use a portion of the second round of COVID-19 funds, if the district receives some.
At the high school, renovation to the media center was discussed. The committee discussed creating a STEM learning lab in part of it, which could also be used as a collaborative space for small groups or for tutoring. The library aspect would remain intact and available for students.
In November 2018 the school district passed a $3.5 million property tax levy for heating, ventilation and air condition improvements as well as other projects at the elementary. The ballot had three questions. The other two questions, which failed by a slight margin, tackled improvements the committee has its eye on for the future.
The board went out for another referendum the following year to see if the public reconsidered and wanted to add onto the building project it approved in 2018. It failed.
Perhaps the year postponement of starting the elementary renovation project was a blessing, because the district received lower than expected bids and interest rates.
In the spring of 2020, work began to install a heating and ventilation system throughout the elementary school, as well as replacing windows from the oldest section of the building. Installing walls in place of temporary ones that were made of bookcases was also done.
Karger said the improvements from the levied dollars also allowed for new flooring to be installed in areas and second grade lockers were replaced. He explained the lockers were thin, and had trouble fitting winter gear. Now, the only classes with the thin model lockers are K-1.
The unexpected funding remaining from the bond also allowed the district to shift the office next to the front door, and create a secured entrance where visitors must enter a vestibule and then be allowed into the office for business. If warranted, a second door can be unlocked to allow visitors into the classroom section of the school.
A project yet to be done includes installing new ventilation between the stove and kitchen. Karger explained when the ceiling was replaced with the new HVAC system, code required the kitchen also be brought into compliance. He said that requirement was known before the project began, and the job is slated to be done this coming summer.
Projects outside of bond funding included new doors for the cafeteria and a multipurpose gym space. The doors were paid for through long-term maintenance funds, and insurance provided a small gym space that is set to hold a batting cage. The insurance funds came about after a heavy snowstorm collapsed a lean-to that was formerly in the location of the new gym space.
COVID-19 funds that have already been given to the district allowed the school to purchase a new vehicle. Karger said one SUV in the district fleet was set to expire, and COVID-19 funds allowed the school to replace it. There are stipulations in place, however. Karger explained the vehicle must be used during school hours for transportation of active COVID-19 students. Once the peacetime emergency concludes, the restrictions of how the vehicle can be used during school hours are removed.
COVID-19 funds may also offer updates to the robotics and shop area. Karger said the instructor of those classes is creating a plan to improve the space, while allowing for appropriate distancing between students.
Big ticket items that were part of the referendum that the public didn’t approve included a secured entrance at the high school, remodeling the wrestling room and creating a commons area and building an auditorium. Karger made his opinion clear when he said, if the public wants those items then the referendum should be driven by the district residents.
“But, it is good to be ready so that we are ready when the public is,” he said, adding having a long-range plan also helps as the district tackles smaller scale projects while keeping in mind the bigger picture.
As for the roofs, Karger said they are currently in good shape even though they are not under warranty. He added the district has funds embedded in long-term maintenance to be used when the time comes.
A full school board working session is planned for Monday, March 1 at 6 p.m.