Talks continue on potential $13.3M school project

By Per Peterson

An arguably overdue infrastructure project for Tracy Area Public Schools is in the discussion phase, and the District No. 2904 School Board wants to cover all its bases before moving forward.

At last week’s school board meeting, Tracy Area Public Schools Supt. Chad Anderson went over the details of the project, which includes, among other things, updating 50-year-old air handling systems, which heat and cool the air inside the buildings.

(Custodian) Joe (Pyle) has been talking to me all the time about air handling units and how he’s constantly fixing them,” Anderson said. “There is concern that, what if one of the air handlers goes down in the middle of winter — what do we do? Replacement parts are getting harder and harder to come by. Do we look at continuing to try to fix 50-year-old air handlers, or do we look at replacing the entire system?”

Anderson told the board that the district has already secured one preliminary estimate for the project, which totals $13,324,871 — $8,251,516 at the high school and $5,073,355 at the elementary school. The audit on the equipment was done by Ehlers.

This option assumes a February 2023 election and allows the capital project levy to expire. The district is estimating it could fund $14,380,000 in projects (a $13 million project plus another $1,380,000 of other deferred maintenance projects which would have been funded with the annual capital project levy). The district’s ag property owners benefit from this option because the entire levy becomes eligible for the Ag2School credit. For a $7,000 Ag Homestead Acre the annual tax impact is estimated at $0.31 per acre which is down significantly from the $0.55 estimated on Sept. 2 Option 1 that assumed renewal of the capital project levy and funded a $13 million project.

The biggest pieces of the project would be the air handlers and duct work at both schools, as well as the replacement of the chillers at each school. The district’s existing capital project levy and debt service levy both go though the year 2023; if approved by the voters in a referendum that would be held no later than November 2023, the new capital project levy would kick in the same year the current levy expires. If the election were to take place after November 2023 and the referendum is approved, the district can take advantage of the AG to School Tax Credit, which would result in the state paying 70% and land owners paying 30% of the entire project.

“We are still in the discussion process, so no decisions have been made about how or when a possible referendum may be brought to the voters,” said Anderson. “However, we are getting more opinions and continuing to move in the right direction.”

Anderson noted that the district’s current operating referendum is the lowest in Southwest Minnesota, outside of the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton School District, and its bond total is in the bottom third of area districts.

“We’ve been very mindful of everyone’s taxes, and we’re not just frivolously doing things to increase taxes,” Anderson said. “It’s not exciting … we’re just doing things to keep our facilities going.”

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