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Tiger Talk: Updated facilities needed for students, community

The Pine River-Backus School District aims to inspire lifelong learners and is committed to excellence for the students and community. To provide opportunities for success, the district has been analyzing facility needs to better serve both students and the community.

Throughout this multi-year process several needs have been discovered within the site, existing buildings and in currently non-existing spaces. There is a lack of classroom space, no proper facilities for performing arts and a shortage of space and current equipment for career technology education classes. Several important spaces within the high school are outdated, such as the old high school gymnasium, which doubles as the performing arts performance center, and the media center.

This has resulted in decreased use of the spaces and a missed opportunity to provide resources for students. Storage both within the buildings and at the exterior for facility and athletic equipment is lacking.

Overall, several changes are necessary to create 21st century learning environments to best prepare students for their future.

Since 2016, a master planning effort has taken place in which immediate, near-future and long-term needs have been discussed. Conversations with staff, administration, the school board and community members have helped to influence the needs and goals of this proposal, which have been discussed with various designs, concept plans and diagrams. Priorities and modifications have been adjusted throughout the process to make informed decisions about what facility changes are best suited for the students and community.

The school board has been involved to help make decisions regarding the best interests for the district, considering student, staff and community needs, goals and responsibilities. In the past, the district has shown fiscal responsibility with facility needs, such as requesting a minimal levy in 2011 and since that time completing facility changes by use of Long-Term Maintenance Funding or internal funds.

A sampling of community residents from a fall 2018 Pre-Referendum Study completed by the Morris Leatherman Company showed that the majority of the community believes the district portrays fiscal credibility in spending and what it asks of the taxpayers.

A plan has been developed for necessary facility upgrades that will benefit the students and community by improving areas in which the district is currently lacking. This proposal identifies the district needs that are meant to provide opportunities for students to learn and thrive to the best of their abilities within facilities and with technologies that will allow them to do so.

The proposed project will consist of an addition, renovations and sitework. The scope includes the following six components:

• Career Technical Education (CTE) spaces: Renovate and expand existing industrial technology classrooms with space and equipment to enhance programming for CTE courses. Add an additional classroom space and up-to-date machinery, equipment and technology.

There is a community and regional shortage of skilled workers seeking employment in the trades. The improvements will help prepare students for job-ready skills in today's industries.

• Multi-use performing arts addition: Create a dedicated performing arts theater with stage, lighting and sound for school and community use. The addition would also include a central location for band, choir and drama, including instruction, practice and storage rooms. Existing band and choir rooms would be renovated into much-needed high school classroom spaces.

• High school gymnasium renovation: Provide much needed repairs and renovations to the existing walls, ceilings and floor. Include updated seating and equipment to fit today's needs, including accessible bleachers.

• Football and track support facilities: Create a welcoming entry gate and provide accessible, permanent and updated storage, concessions and restroom facilities. Help to create a sense of school spirit and community pride.

• Outdoor storage building: Provide an additional, much-needed site storage building for buses, athletics and maintenance equipment.

• High school Media Center renovation: Create collaborative work and learning spaces and encourage increased library use. Provide 21st century learning environment in a centralized location for the high school that offers small-group work spaces for student and staff collaboration.

The above project scope is proposed to be financed in two parts and divided as follows:

• Bond referendum funds: $15,295,000 for CTE spaces, multi-use performing arts addition, high school gymnasium renovation, and football and track support facilities upgrades.

• Construction fund balance: From district funds on hand for outdoor storage building and high school Media Center renovation.

The public is invited to get more information at a series of public information sessions on the following dates: Thursday, Feb. 7; Tuesday, March 5; and Thursday, April 18. All meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the high school Media Center.

Voting for the referendum will take place Tuesday, May 14, at Pine River City Hall.