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Bond vote fails: Plan to improve school facilities fails by 162 votes

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Pine River-Backus School Superintendent Dave Endicott was visibly disappointed when the results came in Tuesday, May 14, against the building bond referendum. He and several staff members from the school met at Bites Bar and Grill to hear the results together. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal 2 / 2

The Pine River-Backus School District’s building bond referendum vote is in, and school district voters defeated the $15.295 million bond project Tuesday, May 14. The vote was 610 “no” votes to 448 “yes” votes.

At 8:28 p.m. Tuesday, Superintendent Dave Endicott was sitting with others at Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River when the results came in. Endicott said he started the morning optimistic but became anxious the closer the time came to the count.

“I thought it’d be closer than that,” he said immediately after receiving the results on his cellphone.

According to the Cass County website, 4,595 school district voters were registered as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, and 1,059 votes were cast for a 22.8% voter turnout. Cass County Election Administrator Sharon Anderson said a typical non-November election in the district has a 25%-30% voter turnout. There were 171 absentee ballots cast.

“Disappointed, obviously,” Endicott said about the “no” vote to improve school facilities. “We were hoping we could have something exciting to celebrate tonight. We're thankful we had a large turnout for votes. Obviously people were interested in what was going on. We can learn from that going forward from there.”

The future of the proposed project is now in the hands of the school board.

“Right now there would be no plans,” Endicott said. “The board will have to sit down and take a look at what the results were and decide from there where they want to go.”

The next regular school board meeting is Monday, May 20, at which time the board as a whole will have the opportunity to respond to the results and perhaps begin planning for the next steps.

Endicott hopes that feedback from the community during the district’s upcoming strategic planning sessions will help the board to decide on the future. The strategic planning process will give the district its best chance to gather feedback after the vote has come and gone.

“We have a strategic plan that's going on,” Endicott said. “Hopefully during that process we will have more information on what our community wants to have happen for their students and kids here.”

The bond referendum included:

  • Career Technology Education: $1,614,319 to add to the current wood and metal shops and renovate current space.

  • Multi-purpose performance addition and classroom remodeling: $9,198,827 for an addition that would have included a 590-seat auditorium space, band and choir practice rooms and a scene shop, along with renovations for the current band and choir practice rooms.
  • High school gymnasium renovation: $1,031,100 to repair the walls and ceiling of the high school gymnasium, update graphics on the gym floor along with refinishing and eliminating problems with accessibility and occupancy ratings.

  • Football and track support facilities (concessions, restrooms, storage and ticketing/entry gate): $442,792 to replace and expand the school's current concessions, restroom and storage space at the football field. The current concession section is not up to code, the current restrooms are inoperable and storage is both inadequate and prone to flooding. Expanded storage could have resulted in home-based track and field meets.

Business Manager Jolene Bengtson has said projects in the bond referendum proposal were the result of a growing “wish list” of items that were generally too large to pay for with the general fund.

Though not a part of the $15.295 million bond referendum, the board also had included plans to renovate the high school media center and construct an outdoor storage building and bus garage with six spaces. These projects, estimated at $1.3 million, were dependent on the referendum passing. Proposed funding would have come from the budget and not the 20-year bond.