After some discussion about whether the current school schedule interruptions might have a financial impact, the Pine River-Backus School Board agreed to seek $500,000 in bonds to construct a restroom and concessions building and renovate the high school gymnasium.

The board unanimously approved a plan to sell bonds to finance the projects Monday, March 16. This same plan was presented at the board's Feb. 10 regular meeting, but the idea to fund improvements with bond sales failed 3-3. Board member Ryan Trumble was absent from that meeting.

Business Manager Jolene Bengtson said unpredictable market conditions could result in favorable or unfavorable results for the school district; however, if the bond interest rate doesn't appear favorable, the district is under no obligation to sell for a high interest rate. Similarly, the district is not obligated to accept any bids that don't meet its price.

The bonds amount to $500,000 for updates to the two facilities: the high school gym for $200,000 and the football field facilities for $300,000. The gym would be renovated in-house, while the football field facilities would be bid to a contractor.

During the February meeting, most disagreements were regarding the football field facilities. Several board members questioned the need for a concessions stand and winter insulation. The gymnasium project, however, has been in a back-log of projects for years. Both projects are designed to bring the school up to date on safe seating and accessibility.

School board member Dawn Rubner asked whether it might be wise to delay the decision because of COVID-19 concerns. Rubner asked if the state aid or funding to the school district might change. Superintendent Dave Endicott and Bengtson said funding should remain stable. Gov. Tim Walz guaranteed no changes in funding that might affect the project.

"It's already set for next year," Endicott said.

Bengtson also explained that in the unlikely event the state does take back funding, it would not come from the same portions of the budget that the district is using to pay for the bonds.

Board member Katy Botz asked if starting the project now will be a problem for the staff, given that school employees will be busy working to educate students in spite of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Building Director Karl Flier said the project will only get more expensive if they wait. Bengtson said mitigation efforts might even allow the school district to start the project earlier than projected, in May.

The district will make bond payments using existing levy dollars; as such, there will be no added tax impact on local residents. The board also agreed to advertise for bids on the football field project.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.