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Pine River-Backus Schools: Updated plans revealed at final bond referendum meeting

The final May 7 public information meeting on the Pine River-Backus School District's proposed building bond referendum brought the biggest audience yet to see the latest designs.1 / 2
Latest plans for the performing arts addition to Pine River-Backus School (in yellow) show it pivoted from its previous location to make room for more parking spaces.2 / 2

Updated site plans were revealed at the Tuesday, May 7, school bond referendum informational meeting in the Pine River-Backus School media center, and 27 people were present to see them.

Over the past several months, public meetings and consultations with faculty, staff and students have produced an abundance of questions, concerns and suggestions regarding proposed facility improvements that are part of the $15.295 million building bond referendum that school district residents will vote on Tuesday, May 14.

This input has resulted in modifications to the original facility improvement plans.

Among the biggest concerns at public meetings was parking spaces available outside of the proposed auditorium. At the time, there were plans to add parking; but based on feedback, Kodet Architectural Group pivoted the multiple use performing arts addition from a north/south orientation to an east/west orientation, aligning the entryway on the same side of the building as the high school entrance.

Feedback also resulted in the addition of an orchestra pit and expandable, mobile seating in the auditorium space.

This adjustment allowed architects to address the parking concerns, shifting the practice football fields 20 yards north and adding 100 parking spaces.

Traffic flow was a major concern in these adjustments and will continue to be developed during design phases, if voters approve the bond referendum.

Changes were also made to the proposed designs for the Career and Technical Education spaces, also pivoting the layout of the metal and wood shops while maintaining the expanded spaces for each.

Accessibility of the CTE spaces was a major priority in feedback from staff and students, including possibly aligned bay doors allowing a vehicle to be driven through both shops for different portions of student projects.

More specific designs and details would be discussed and added in the fall if the referendum is successful.

Dale Probasco, of Backus, asked what type of cost estimate the school was working on with this project.

Mike Schellin, of Kodet, said the estimate is designed with contingencies built in to prevent overages. These contingencies are designed to provide padding in case of unexpected costs. Schellin used an example of finding an existing wall deteriorating and needing replacement or discovering previously unknown plumbing issues. Beyond that, Schellin said the prices have not-to-exceed caps and the architects would have to design their plans to that amount and not above.

Probasco asked if there would be regular reports on expenses and designs. Schellin and school district Business Manager Jolene Bengtson said there would be regular updates.

Steve Hansen, of Pine River, asked when bidding could start, followed by construction. Schellin said bidding would hopefully start in January 2020 with work to begin in April 2020 on outdoor facilities and locations that would not impact student operations in the school.

During the summer, more of the indoor facilities, such as the gym, would be worked on. The performance space would be the final leg of the project, estimated to take an additional year to complete, possibly wrapping up October 2021.

Hansen later asked when bonds would be released, Schellin said this July.

Probasco asked if Kodet is working with maintenance and staff who would be cleaning and maintaining the facilities in question. Schellin said Building and Grounds Director Karl Flier has had a significant hand in discussing design and needs and would continue to be a part of planning and design.

There have been staff and faculty meetings for feedback, which helped to determine hallway design.

Probasco asked how architects decided on the size of the CTE expansion. Schellin said the size was determined through comparison to CTE spaces constructed in other educational buildings, and with consideration for the district's five-year registration projections.

Penny Olson asked how local the contractors would be, referencing a recent mailer sent to voters in the district. Schellin said local contractors, including those Flier listed for working at the school in the past, would be solicited for bids early on to hopefully get them involved or give them time to join forces with larger firms to complete the job.

Schellin said it would be a public bidding process and the project would be awarded to the lowest responsible bid, but special efforts would be made to attract local contractors.

One unidentified resident asked about the wisdom of putting money into the facilities near the football field given the lack of a varsity football team last season. Bengtson pointed out that the same field is used for more than varsity football, including track and field, which has doubled in size. Superintendent Dave Endicott said there are also many players in the lower level teams coming up in the future.

Someone asked if there would be difficulty finding a construction firm, given there are large projects in other local districts. Schellin said that fact likely would drive up prices and make attracting bidders more of a challenge, but he believes the scheduling for PR-B's project would work to the district's advantage.

One resident asked if grading was being considered, since flooding and water damage are a major problem in the current track and field storage facilities. Bengtson said it is unlikely that the school would have a similar problem with this project, because the old building was constructed by a PR-B shop class.

Schellin said they are looking into drainage concerns and have identified low spots near the fields and in the existing parking areas, which would be addressed.

Asked if school staff would need to increase for maintenance and use of the new facilities, Endicott said it is possible that student registration and needs could eventually determine a need for more staffing, but currently the school district is looking to use current teachers and staff for the new facilities.

Someone asked how the school district would determine which classes are needed not only for this addition, but also who would use the classrooms that are vacated if the new band and choir rooms are constructed. Endicott said those numbers are driven by registration. Bengtson said state driven requirements help determine class and staff offerings.

Bengtson also said the classroom renovation costs are built into the referendum, and resetting and furnishing of those classes for different purposes are paid for through the annual operating budget.

Probasco asked if the district had looked at how the addition would affect the operating budget. Schellin said those projections were required by the state for the project to be approved. Operating and maintenance are built into the plan. The district would also have discussions in the coming year about which classes would take up residence in the band and choir room.

One resident brought into question the proposed cost of the bus garage at $750,821 and suggested the cost shouldn't exceed $250,000 by his estimate. Schellin said the main cost is the masonry, steel trusses and standard to which the building would be built. He said the school district would build it to last, especially longer than the 20-year referendum. The resident said he felt a less expensive pole building would suffice and last long enough.

One resident asked what percentage of events would be relocated to the performance auditorium. Bengtson said the hope is to relocate 100% of band, choir, concerts and other non-athletic activities to the auditorium. It is for the larger audiences that Schellin decided to add optional modular seating.

In addition, some larger performances, such as the annual elementary Christmas concerts, might need to be split up more by grade levels to accommodate audiences larger than the approximately 600 seats.

Bengtson said this proposal is the result of more than 10 years of delayed projects on the school's to-do list. These projects were generally too costly to be rolled into the school district's budget.

When asked, Bengtson said if these items were completed, the district doesn't foresee any projects that would require a bond. Bengtson said the district generally does not depend on bond referendums for most needs. The most recent 20-year bond referendum was taken in 2011.

The bond referendum vote is Tuesday, May 14, at the Pine River City Hall.

Absentee ballots are available now through Monday, May 13, by mail or in-person. To apply by mail, visit "election pages" at www.co.cass.mn.us for an absentee application, or call 218-547-7295.

To apply and vote by absentee ballot in-person, visit Pine River City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 11; and until 5 p.m. Monday, May 13.

To return completed voter registration forms and absentee ballot applications by mail, send to Cass County Elections, PO Box 3000, Walker, MN 56484, or email to cass.voter@co.cass.mn.us.