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Midkota takes $6.4M school project to ballot

Voters in Midkota Public School District will decide on a $6.4 million bond referendum in March that would go toward a $7.4 million project for two schools.

Voters in Midkota Public School District will decide on a $6.4 million bond referendum in March that would go toward a $7.4 million project for two schools.

According to school officials, voting for the 20-year bond will be held March 14 at Midkota Elementary School in Binford, Midkota High School in Glenfield and Grace City Schoolhouse Cafe in Grace City. Early voting is underway through March 13 at Binford or Glenfield school offices.

If the referendum passes with the required 60 percent approval then the one-year construction project would start in fall 2017 and be completed in fall 2018, said Veronica Vollmer, Midkota School Board president. Consolidated Construction Co. is the project management firm.

The original 1914 Midkota High School building in Glenfield would come down, keeping the existing 1951 and 1964 additions and building a new 26,649-square-foot gymnasium, commons area, cafeteria and offices, she said.

"We have to address the needs of that school," Vollmer said.

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The No. 1 concern in the district is student safety, she said. This means removing portable classrooms around the high school and making handicap-accessible improvements, she said.

A major issue with parents and students is having to drive to other school gyms in the district to practice team sports after school, she said. A new gym at Glenfield would keep students from having to drive elsewhere after school, she said.

"Time is a big issue and a new gym would get them home earlier," Vollmer said.

The Midkota Elementary School in Binford, built in 1908, will remain but would have new communications, heating and air conditioning, fire sprinkler systems and restrooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.

"No matter what we have to address the needs of these old buildings," Vollmer said.

Under the proposal the $7.4 million proposed cost is reduced by applying $400,000 from the school district general fund, she said. The remaining $600,000 will come from the operation and maintenance budget.

If passed, the referendum would result in 32.09 additional mills to the existing 77 school district mill levy, according to information on the school district website. The estimated residential tax increase is $124.97 per $100,000 of property value, while the commercial tax impact is $87.81, and the agricultural tax adds $1.24 per acre of farmland.

Vollmer said a 15-member community committee helped to produce 21 optional plans over the past several months that were developed with ICON Architectural Group out of Grand Forks. The committee rejected a $14 million plan for a new school that would have required buying land in a central location, she said.

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The school district's website says it covers 600 square miles and serves the consolidated community of 1,348 residents of Binford and Sutton in Griggs County, along with Glenfield, McHenry and Grace City in Foster County, Kensal in Stutsman County and rural portions of Eddy and Nelson counties.

If nothing is done, the risk is losing more of the 73 high school and 91 elementary school students and funding to neighboring school districts that made improvements, said Les Dale, superintendent and high school principal of Midkota Public School District. The renovation of Midkota would make it the better choice and increase enrollment, he said.

"This ($6.4 million plan) was the best solution that came out of that committee," Dale said.

The School Board approved the referendum on a 4-3 vote in December.

School Board member Shawn Adrian said he opposed the referendum after getting feedback from the Binford community he represents.

"The vast majority of Binford does not support the project," he said.

Adrian said a 20-year bond project for long-term school improvements is a "tough sell" in a school district with half the enrollment it had two decades ago. The three school board members who voted against holding the referendum had individual reasons but agreed on the enrollment issue, he said.

"It's not that we don't support something, there is a need," Adrian said. "But it seems like an awful lot of money when enrollment is roughly half of what it was 25 years go and I don't see it changing in the years ahead."

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