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Board approves school bond measure for Dec. 1 ballot

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 2, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Brian Berg of architectural firm Zerr-Berg answers questions from the public about proposed new construction for Ely Elementary School at a special meeting Sept. 22.

A $7.8 million bond measure for construction on the Ely Elementary School campus will be on the ballot Dec. 1 after the Rugby Public School board approved bringing it before voters at a special meeting Sept. 22.

The unanimous vote came after presentations to the board by directors from Consolidated Construction Co., Inc. of Bismarck and architectural firm Zerr-Berg of Fargo. Board members also heard from Rob DeMeuse, project manager and director of School Perceptions, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wis.

Before their vote to place the bond measure on the ballot, the board approved a resolution to issue the $7,870,000 bonds.

After the special meeting held in the Ely Elementary library, the board attended a second presentation and question and answer forum for the public in the school gym.

Via videoconferencing software, DeMeuse presented information to both groups from a survey sent in September to about 1900 residents, 97 percent of whom live in the Rugby school district.

The company received 543 completed surveys, representing a 28 percent response rate, which DeMeuse called “good.”

“I feel like I can make strong predictions from that data,” DeMeuse added.

The survey captured responses from Rugby residents age 18 to 65 plus. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents live in the Rugby Public School District. Two hundred and ten respondents are parents or guardians of students attending school in the district. Residents of Rugby made up 67 percent of the respondents, with the remainder living in rural areas served by Rugby schools.

DeMeuse said one to two thirds of respondents pay taxes on agricultural land. “A little under a tenth have property that’s taxed as commercial land,” he added.

Respondents answered questions about whether they would support new construction on the Ely campus if it didn’t require a property tax increase. They also gave their opinions of the quality of education students receive in Rugby schools.

The number of respondents was broken into groups. Two hundred ten of the 543 respondents said they were parents of students in Rugby public schools. Both groups of respondents contained school staff members as well.

Overall, the groups said they favored a bond referendum on a proposal to expand and improve the Ely campus. DeMeuse said school staff, school staff with children in Rugby schools and parents of Rugby school students favored the project the most, as he expected.

“We said, ‘Would you support an eight million dollar bond referendum to complete the recommended plan at Ely Elementary as described in the survey, representing no tax increase over the current level?'” DeMeuse said of the main survey question.

“With everybody who responds put into the same bucket, you’re well over two thirds. You’re at 68 percent who said ‘yes’ to that,” DeMeuse added.

Superintendent Mike McNeff said the district had considered the coming payoff on a bond financing improvements to Rugby High School in their decision to take up the Ely project. Since the district would issue one bond as the other expired, property owners in the district would see no new increase in taxes.

The district also considered the availability of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds when deciding on the project. The proposed construction would use $1.3 million in available ESSER funds. The bond funds plus the federal funds would make $9.1 million available for the project.

McNeff told attendees at the public meeting the board had approved issuing the bonds.

Survey respondents gave high marks to Rugby schools in general, according to DeMeuse.

Respondents expressed confidence in how the district manages money, how the schools build pride in their community and how likely respondents are to recommend the district to a friend or family member.

“Since we put this question into place, I’m not sure that I’ve seen more people choose ‘extremely likely’ than I have on any survey,” DeMeuse said of the recommendation question. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being “highly likely,” the possibility a respondent would recommend Rugby public schools averaged 7.5, with 35 percent saying they were “highly likely” to recommend Rugby schools.

Brian Berg, principal architect at Zerr-Berg showed a model drawing and specs for the proposed improvements on the Ely campus.

Berg said the plan would streamline areas for parking and student drop off points for buses and cars, replace the school’s cafeteria with a larger commons area for eating, expand the playground and gym, add areas for music instruction and performance and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab. The plan also allows for optional modifications to be made on special education classrooms, general education classroom space, playground turf and a boiler. Additionally, the new addition to the building features a raised roof to balance snow loads.

In the public question and answer session, Rugby City Council member Dave Bednarz noted the city was researching bringing natural gas to the area. Bednarz suggested the board could investigate adding natural gas connections to the building.

Berg cautioned costs could change due to what he called “a historic issue with pricing, availability of materials, labor shortages and those sorts of things. That happens on every project we’re involved with right now.” Berg blamed COVID for the unstable market conditions in construction.

Mike Barsiness, director of preconstruction services at Consolidated Construction also answered questions.

Rugby area business owner Brad Wangler asked, “That $7.8 million for the bond referendum, where does that come from, initially? Is that the number we can come up with without having to raise taxes?”

“That’s correct,” Berg answered. “My understanding is that number doesn’t increase the levy (the schools receive) right now. Berg said the total construction costs, which amount to about $8.7 million, fall under the $9.1 in total funds available for the project from the proposed bond and ESSER funds.

Berg suggested the difference in funds could be used to expand spaces for special and general education classes.

After the district holds the special election on the bond issue, titled Question 1, on Dec. 1, the school board will tabulate the votes Dec. 14 to allow them to consider the results at their regular Dec. 19 meeting.

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