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Nisswa residents learn tax impact of Brainerd School District referendum

Brainerd School District Superintendent Laine Larson shares details of the district's planned referendum with residents Thursday, Feb. 22, at Nisswa Elementary School. The referendum will go to a vote Tuesday, April 10. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 1 / 2
Pictured is the conceptual plan for upgrades to Nisswa Elementary School, which will go to a vote with the rest of the Brainerd School District referendum Tuesday, April 10. Click image to view entire photo. Submitted Photo2 / 2

Early voting is now open for the Brainerd School District's bond referendum, the Blueprint 181 plan.

About 35 district residents gathered at Nisswa Elementary School Thursday, Feb. 22, to learn about the plan to refurbish Nisswa and other district schools if the referendum passes.

Upgrades to Nisswa Elementary School are included in the first of three questions that will be on the ballot Tuesday, April 10. The school's current capacity is 250 students, but enrollment has passed projections and is at 299. After an estimated $12 million in renovations, the school would be able to accommodate 425 K-4 students, plus early childhood programs and special education students. Existing space would also be updated.

Residents asked about restrooms, parking and the library.

Nisswa Principal Molly Raske said new restrooms are in the plan and the cost analysis for the school and will be fully accessible. Their final placement is still undecided, as designs are preliminary.

Superintendent Laine Larson had a similar answer regarding parking, saying there hasn't been much talk about it yet, but it would join the conversation during the drawing phase if the referendum passes.

Though the library is currently being used as classroom space, Larson said it would absolutely go back to being just a library after renovations.

"Right now this is all conceptual, just to show that we have the space ... to accommodate the needs that we're going to have in this facility," Larson said.

Nisswa resident Hilary Johnson said she hopes the plan for Nisswa prioritizes student safety over physical appearance.

"It just has to be safe, and it has to work. I'd rather cut down on prices for it be a square box," Johnson said. "I just hope it's realistic."

Larson agreed with Johnson and said the school will be something the district is proud of but will first and foremost be made to do what it needs to and be as safe as possible.

The upgrades to Nisswa Elementary School cannot happen unless Question 1 of the referendum passes, and that would mean renovations to all the elementary schools in the plan.

Financing

The total cost of the Blueprint 181 plan - which has been in the works for more than three years - is $205 million. Assistant Superintendent Aaron Sinclair explained the district already has money it could use for the project in its long-term facilities maintenance fund. There is $18.3 million for Question 1, and $9.15 for Question 2, which deals with secondary and alternative education. Using those funds wouldn't directly impact taxpayers, and there would still be money in the fund for future routine maintenance costs.

"However, in the grand picture of things, our taxes - our state taxes - are what fund public education," Sinclair said. "But you're not going to see that directly on a tax impact when it comes to your property taxes."

The board of education has $31.8 million of board authority funds through abatement bonding that it can use without voter approval. Those funds would provide $17.3 million for Question 1 and $14.5 million for Question 2. This funding avenue, however, would have a direct tax impact.

The third funding source is what district residents will vote on. The remaining cost is $145.71 million.

"This is what we're talking about in terms of what the tax impact is going to be on the individual," Sinclair said.

Though voters are only voting on levying the $145.71 million, Sinclair explained the tax impact with the board authority funds as well so residents could get a clear picture of how their taxes would change.

Should all questions pass, the direct tax impact for a home valued at $156,200 - the median value in the school district - would be a $7 increase per month. Broken down even more, it amounts to $3 a month for Questions 1 and 2 each, and $1 per month for Question 3, the performing arts center. Residents can calculate their exact change with the tax impact calculator at blueprint181.org or by calling 1-800-522-1171.

The tax impact for this project would last 25 years.

If all three questions pass, the estimated time period to complete construction and updates is four years. Though Nisswa desperately needs more space, Larson said the new district buildings would most likely be constructed first. But until the referendum passes, the schedule is up in the air.

At the end of the session, Brainerd resident Brad Maas encouraged voters to consider approving Question 3, which includes a new performing arts center. That plan is to upgrade the auditorium at Brainerd High School from 950 to 1,200 seats and to add a full orchestra pit and enhanced lighting and acoustics. The space would be available to the whole community and could accommodate bigger acts.

"I'm willing to put forth extra money for the next 25 years to help our kids .. get the best education they can," Maas said, noting the new performing arts center would be economically beneficial for the whole area and especially for students interested in theater activities.

"Please vote for the performing arts center," he said.

Another informational session on the referendum will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Nisswa City Hall. School district officials are willing to present the plan's information anywhere for those interested. To schedule a time, call the district office at 218-454-6900.