School board won’t rush $14.5M project

DISTRICT NO. 2904 SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR ROD BENSON (right) makes a point during Monday’s school board meeting. To Benson’s right is Tracy Area Public Schools Supt. Chad Anderson. Photo / Per Peterson

By Per Peterson

Facing the prospect of spending $14.5 million on a massive infrastructure project — and asking taxpayers to help foot the bill — the District No. 2904 School Board on Monday voted to take its time and discuss the matter in more detail before making any firm decisions.

APEX Solutions, SBC out of Anoka presented a facilities audit to the board Monday, detailing the construction needs of the district. While APEX representatives said both public school buildings are in great shape and the district shouldn’t feel the pressure to have to do anything right now with things like its HVAC systems and duct work, there will come a time when those 50-plus-year-old systems will need upgrading and replacing.

The board also mulled whether or not it would do all the upgrades at once or take on individual projects one at a time.

“If we’re going to do the project, I’d like to see it just get up and done, and not piecemeal it,” board member Jay Fultz said. “If we’re going to ask the voters for a referendum, we’re just going to ask for the total amount, and roll with this thing and move on. Our maintenance staff has done a fantastic job keeping the buildings in as good as shape as they’re in, and we need to continue doing that. We need to keep moving forward.”

Fultz moved to begin moving on the project as a whole, and board member Matt Surprenant seconded. However, the motion failed as board members Ben Ludeman, Jody Bauer, Nikki Swanson and Sheila Siebenahler-Holland voted against.

While Ludeman was grateful for a thorough and complete presentation, he couldn’t bring himself to making such a large financial commitment at this time.

“It’s the largest capital expenditure our district is going to ever spend — we’re talking $14 million,” said Ludeman. “I think we forget how much $14 million is to our school district. Second of all, I don’t want to vote for this because it speeds up a timeline on a project that needs to be addressed, but not immediately. I don’t think there’s an urgency that means we have to make decisions that are rushed.”

Ludeman said it’s a “crazy time” to be doing construction projects, and while there’s no guarantee the project will get cheaper in the future, he said there’s no immediacy to doing the project right now.

“I’m not saying that this work doesn’t need to be addressed in the future, I’m not in denial that we never have to do anything about it, but I’m not comfortable voting to spend that kind of money on a one-night presentation without getting the feel from our community, without getting some more feedback,” Ludeman said.

The entire project would ultimately include the HVAC systems and duct work, boilers and chillers, electrical work, sprinkler systems, and doors and walls at the elementary school.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.