Local government

Luck school referendum - questions asked by public

Mary Stirrat | Staff writer
LUCK — The April ballot for residents of the Luck School District will include a question asking whether voters support a $9.85 million referendum project for maintenance, updates and an addition to the school.
 
About 35 people attended an informational meeting Thursday evening, March 5, to learn about the project and ask questions. Superintendent Cory Hinkel began the presentation by outlining the scope of and rationale for the project.
 
He briefly reviewed the timeline that brought the school board to approval of the April 7 referendum questions, starting with needs assessment of the facility in 2018. In an April 2019 referendum vote, an $8.5 million school improvement plan failed to pass by a vote of 431 to 402.
 
The needs, however, are still there, said Hinkel.
 
Included as major components of the project are $520,000 for exterior maintenance of the building, sidewalks, parking lot and track, and $563,000 for improvements to the family and consumer education, technical education and metal shops areas. There is also $807,000 for classroom updates in the science rooms, computer lab and library, as well as flooring, shelving, desks and seating in a number of classrooms.
 
Another $660,000 is slated for renovating the bathrooms to meet ADA requirements and a unisex rest room, and $521,000 for replacing doors and flooring.
 
Bigger ticket items consist of $1.03 million for renovations and updates to the locker rooms, weight room and elementary gymnasium. Another $1.02 million is included to turn the elementary gym into an auditorium with the flexibility to still be used for physical education and other purposes.
The largest item, however, is a proposed $4.22 million gymnasium addition, with a small commons area and adjacent rest rooms. This addition could be securely blocked off from the rest of the school, allowing use when the school is closed while preventing visitors access to the rest of the building.
 
Also included is just over $500,000 for contingencies such as unexpected asbestos or other unanticipated issues.
 
Hinkel also reported on an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that, if successful, would provide $2 million of $3.4 million needed for a storm shelter addition.
It would be built to withstand an F-5 tornado with winds up to 250 mph, and would double as space for the child care program. Constructed between the road and the proposed gym addition off the south end of the building, the shelter would also house new locker rooms and a weight room, freeing up some of the referendum funds slated to renovate those areas. A total of five classrooms would be freed up for other uses.
 
The application has been submitted to FEMA, Hinkel said, and the school will be notified in July as to whether it is awarded the grant.
 
Following Hinkel’s presentation on the FEMA grant possibility, a member of the audience questioned whether it would be better to wait with the referendum until the district knows if it will receive the grant since the grant would at least affect the locker rooms and weight rooms.
 
Hinkel explained that the referendum vote would then need to wait until November, pushing back the timeline for the needed work and likely increasing costs. He also said that, if the district is successful in getting the grant, some of the scope of work could change for the referendum project.
 
Another issue of concern for at least two of the residents present is the proposed construction of a new gymnasium. Given the fact that local bank owner and entrepreneur Dennis Frandsen is paying tuition at technical colleges for both 2019 and 2020 graduates, the two residents felt more of the referendum funding should go toward technical education rather than a new gym.
 
“I’m really disappointed by the amount of money being spent on gymnasiums,” said one resident. He added that he knows the gym isn’t used strictly for basketball, but the fact that many students don’t go to four-year colleges combined with the need for people in the trades means that additional funds for the tech ed program make more sense.
 
Another resident noted that graduates are not staying in the area, in part, because of a lack of housing, but also because of a lack of training in the manufacturing jobs available here.
Hinkel explained that 27 of the 30 2019 graduates took advantage of the Frandsen scholarship and that new equipment is being added regularly to the tech ed department.
However, he added, the shop and tech ed area already have space and infrastructure, so funds are not needed for that. The gymnasium is new construction so is more expensive.
 
School board President Jake Jensen added that a great deal of work has been done in the tech ed department recently, and the program offers many opportunities. The $562,000 included in the referendum will make a big difference, he said.
 
“It’s a good space,” said Hinkel. “We have the blueprint for a wonderful shop there.” What’s needed, he said, is additional equipment.
 
As discussion shifted back to the new gymnasium space, former superintendent and current school board member Rick Palmer pointed out that the new facility allows the elementary gym to be remodeled into an auditorium.
“I don’t think many people in this room can deny the fact and our performing arts has performed in substandard areas for years,” he said.
 
“Putting a million into renovating our old gym into an auditorium that our kids can really benefit from makes us need that new gym space.
 
Saying that for years he has felt bad about how performing arts students have been “shortchanged,” Palmer added, “I really support the auditorium renovation, and along with that comes the need for gym space.”
 
The school is being used differently now than it was 30 years ago when he was in school, said Jensen, and every space is in use daily by the school and the community.
 
Wrapping up the meeting, Hinkel encouraged everyone to get out and vote Tuesday, April 7. Information can be found on the Unity School website.


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