Moose Lake is going to be changing in the next few years. With the proposal for a new McDonald's on former school district property along Highway 73 near the south entrance/exit of I-35, and the possibility of 36 units of low and moderate income housing, development that the city has been waiting for is going to explode. Those kinds of projects always bring more investment and development.
Along with those exciting projects is the proposal for a new school on that same property. Space for a school, bus garage and athletic fields has been reserved farther south on the approximately 200-acre school district property, bordering the school forest.
Three referendums for a new school have been defeated in recent years. Now it is time for the voters in the school district to once again make a decision about this worthwhile investment in the students and in the community.
Along with all of the other problems facing the existing school, such as the need for tuck pointing, new wiring, new plumbing, and a new roof, the school suffered damage from the flood last June. That was a first in all of its history but it showed the vulnerability of the school in being located so close to Moosehead Lake. The lake rose, and efforts to place sandbags to protect the school from damage were thought to have been effective. However, it was later learned that moisture had seeped into the walls and tunnel of the elementary school, and repair costs mounted to $850,000. Those costs were reimbursed by FEMA funds.
The flood and its effects just added to the list of problems in the current school.
The need for tuck pointing, new wiring, new plumbing, a new roof, handicap accessibility and a host of other problems have been an issue for many years. The flood just pointed out that the current site of the school leaves the school vulnerable to one more major threat.
The former problems, now estimated to cost $12 million to upgrade, were listed in past referendum campaigns.
Those problems have not gone away. They have just gotten worse.
The school’s building insurance was cancelled recently because of the antiquated wiring system. Fuses are still used on the electrical panel instead of circuit breakers.
Do we want our children educated in a building that is so far behind in a vital backbone, such as wiring? The cancellation of the insurance tells us something.
The fire marshal required that a couple of classrooms be closed off a few years ago because they are too far from an exit in case of a fire. Old codes are no longer safe for the lives of students.
Those are just a couple of issues with the old school.
A new school would be up to date, with handicap accessibility that wouldn’t keep people who have difficulty with mobility from attending school or events in the auditorium. The school would be more useful by the community for many events, as well as being a much more effective tool in educating our students.
And a new school would attract students from other districts, instead of the school having declining enrollment. Former superintendent Tim Caroline used to tell that he could see people not being impressed with the building when he took prospective students and their families on tours of the school, despite the school’s academic achievements. Many chose other districts where the buildings were more modern.
The problem that always comes up in these campaigns for a new school is the increase in taxes.
Yes, the taxpayers will take a big hit on their property tax bill. If the referendum isn’t passed, the problems in the old school won’t go away. Investing $12 million in an old school to fix the problems just isn’t worth it. It will still be an old school, with handicap accessibility issues.
Conditions to build now are favorable. Construction costs and interest rates are still low, due to the recession. That isn’t going to last much longer. The economy is on the rise.
And, something that wasn’t available in the past is the $7.2 million in equity aid from the state.
How can the voters pass up that kind of assistance for a sorely needed project?
However, there are still those that don’t see the big picture. They just see the increase in their property taxes.
And it will be high. The problem is that the Moose Lake School District has no debt. People have been used to a low tax bill for far too long.
I talked to a former Barnum resident, and he said that he paid $1,000 a year just for his school taxes. That was on seven acres of property, valued at $250,000.
Why should Moose Lake property tax payers be exempt from paying that kind of bill?
Both the Barnum and Willow River school districts have modern buildings. Those residents know about paying high school taxes. And they know what they are getting for those taxes, schools that are good tools for educating their children and useful to the communities.
Those opposed to the proposal for a new school and an increase in taxes are forming a “Vote No” campaign. They claim that the 46 to 47 percent increase in taxes will be too hard on the farmers with many acres of land and people on fixed incomes.
And that is true. But so is the need for a new school. If this referendum doesn’t pass, the problems will get worse, and it will just cost more in the future.
Our town is growing, and it is time for a new school to be a part of that growth and development. More growth means that the tax load will be spread out over more properties.
If you are a Moose Lake School District resident, get out and vote on Tuesday, May 21, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Moose Lake school gym. The future is in your hands.