District 518 approves $4 million high school addition

WORTHINGTON - Worthington's District 518 School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead with a $4 million second story addition to the Worthington High School, but how they will pay for it was left undecided.

During a special meeting Tuesday, there was considerable discussion regarding adding space to the district.

According to Superintendent John Landgaard, the operations committee had recommended moving forward with the construction project that would add up to six classrooms and be able to utilize an elevator already in place and stairwells from the gymnasium. To address the need for cafeteria space, the school would go from round to rectangle tables, and consider building out the kitchen area by using part of the woodshop.

While the motion made to move ahead with the addition made by board member Mike Harberts passed, a second part of the motion, also made by Harberts, to pay for the addition out of the general fund failed on a 3-4 vote, with the main objection being tying their financial hands moving forward. According to Landgaard, the fund balance has $8.5 million  in assigned funds, and $13.4 million in unassigned funds as of their June 2018 audit. The district keeps at least a 10 percent operations funding amount in that general balance.

With the district trying to move several projects forward at this time, some of which may need to come out of that balance, several school board members were hesitant to make that commitment without a better look at the numbers.

One such project is a collaboration with the city and county on a campus that would include a field house for the city. The Worthington City Council has made the commitment to move forward with that, contingent on the Minnesota Legislature passing a half cent sales tax option, which will be decided within the next two weeks. The district would like to see community education as part of that collaboration, but there are still unknown factors, such as whether the county will move forward with a new library on that campus on the old Campbell's Soup land.

The district did pass a motion to continue collaborative discussions with the city, with board members Harberts and Adam Blume casting nay votes. Harberts said he had talked to Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, who allegedly told him there was still a chance the city could get bonding money through the state legislature for the project. This would not be possible during the current session.

There was also considerable discussion about another try at a referendum, possibly by this November. Landgaard asked for a 3-question referendum that would ask voter to approve funds for a new 2-grade intermediate school. If that question would pass, a second question would ask to expand that to a 3-grade building, adding $7 million to the cost. A third question proposed would pay off the lease levy used to pay for the ALC/Gymnastics building, opening up the opportunity for farmers to use the Ag2Schools tax credit.

A motion to move forward with the referendum, made by board member Joel Lorenz, failed. Lorenz made his motion using a figure of $29 million for the 2-grade building, which would mean at least $2 million would need to come from the general fund. At contention was the amount to be committed from the general fund.

The board agreed they would all like to get a better grasp of what numbers would be committed to the various projects through the general fund, and agreed to take up the discussion at another meeting when more figures were available.

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