Updated: 05/21/2014 2:52 PM
Created: 05/21/2014 1:32 PM KSTP.com
By: Heidi Enninga
A proposed $176 million bond referendum for upgrades and repairs to the Forest Lake Area School District failed after just one city and 39.90 percent of residents voted Tuesday in support of the measure.
Lino Lakes voted 130-124 in favor of the referendum, but was the only city to do so. Columbus residents showed the least amount of support with 356 of 659 or 35.07 percent voting in support.
Ross Bennett, a spokesperson for the district, said the results were disappointing and board members and district officials were hoping for a different outcome for the referendum, which he said included essential projects.
“These are not gratuitous requests,” Bennett said. “They’re things that really, really need to be done in our district, and the price tag is continuing to go up.
Anecdotally, the referendum’s chances looked positive according to Bennett, but he said despite many conversations and community meetings, it’s tough for the district to really get a true sense without some kind of scientific polling.
He said that while the district officials hear a variety of critiques and ideas from community members about the referendum, there wasn’t one thing that seemed to be an overriding issue.
The referendum went up for a vote after a facilities task force identified key needs in the district. The task force was formed in the fall of 2012, and since then, the school board created a formal plan to address the issues.
Included in the plan were safety and security upgrades to the front entrances of each of the buildings so that visitors could be more closely monitored. The Central Learning Center would have been closed, moved to the Southwest building and the land sold.
Century Junior High and Southwest Junior High would have been consolidated into one school for all students in grades 7-8. Forest Lake Area High School would have been upgraded and expanded in order to accommodate all students in 9-12.
The plan also included repairs and upgrades to the roof, heating and ventilation systems, and boilers in most of the buildings.
Bennett said the district will still need to address the plans in the referendum somehow, either with a revised proposal for community members to vote for or help from the legislature, but in the meantime, the fixes will only be a temporary solution.
“When you’re talking about the level of repairs—those things are not inexpensive,” Bennett said. “We’re going to have to basically put band aids on these big problems.”