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West St. Paul schools launch $117M building program.

Byline: Brian Johnson

Fresh off a successful bond referendum, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district is moving into the design phase of an ambitious building program that will touch eight schools.<br />District voters approved the $117 million building spree in a May bond referendum, which opens the floodgates for everything from renovated classrooms and mechanical improvements to new athletic fields and auditorium enhancements.<br />Carrie Hilger, the school district's director of communications, said the design phase is just getting started and will continue through December. Major construction will begin in summer 2019.<br />Working with Minneapolis-based LSE Architects, the district expects to complete all the work by 2021.<br />The district bucked the trend in an otherwise dismal month for school bond referendums. In May, seven of 10 bonding proposals failed to pass muster with residents, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.<br />All of the failed referendums came in outstate Minnesota. Most notably, voters in the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District rejected a $93 million bond question for construction of new elementary schools, safety improvements, early childhood space and outdoor athletic facilities.<br />Greg Abbott, communications director for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said referendums tend to be a tougher sell in outstate Minnesota because the tax base is smaller and the tax load is heavier for each property owner.<br />"If you are in a place with a strong tax base that can absorb those increases, what you pay for a year is a lot less," Abbott said.<br />Referendums fared bettered in April, when five of six questions received voter approval. Last fall, voters in school districts across the state approved 33 of 48 bond questions, including a record $249 million referendum in the Anoka-Hennepin district.<br />In the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district, the biggest chunk of work is going to Henry Sibley High School. Valued at $48.1 million, planned improvements at the high school include construction of a multipurpose athletic facility and new performing arts space.<br />Other district schools up for improvements include Friendly Hills Middle School ($17.55 million), Heritage E-STEM Magnet School ($16.8 million), Garlough Environmental Magnet School ($7.2 million), Moreland Arts & Health Sciences Magnet School ($6.9 million), and Somerset Elementary ($6.8 million).<br />Four more bond referendums are coming up in August and all are in outstate Minnesota, Abbott said. The biggest is a $35 million question in the Worthington School District for a new intermediate school for grades 3-5.<br />In February, voters in the Worthington District rejected a $68.5 million referendum for a new high school and renovations of existing buildings.<br />[divider]Related:<br /> School district, cities mull community center<br /> Voters approve record $1.3 billion for Minnesota schools<br />

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Publication:Finance and Commerce
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Jun 7, 2018
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