District earmarks funds for facilities maintenance projects

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Between a roof, some plumbing and a series of pesky potholes, the Albert Lea school board on Monday discussed six projects totaling close to $1.4 million using long-term facilities maintenance funding for the 2019-20 school year.

According to Director of Facilities Steve Anderson, there are six different projects in Albert Lea Area Schools that would use the funding. Rules for the funding were put in place by the state, allowing schools to levy up to a certain amount, without voter approval, for money specifically earmarked for building repair, upkeep, accessibility and health and safety.

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In Albert Lea Area Schools, those projects include:

• $20,000 toward a camera system to be installed in Brookside Education Center. Anderson said Brookside is the last school to need a camera system in Albert Lea. Lakeview Elementary School and Sibley Elementary School will have their systems installed this summer.

• $380,000 set aside to redo the Brookside parking lot. Anderson said part of the lot was done four or five years ago, but he wants to finish going all the way around.

“We’re spending money fixing potholes, and it’s kind of a waste of money, actually,” Anderson said. “We should go ahead and fix it right.”

• $450,000, the biggest chunk of funding for one location, for a roof replacement over a part of Southwest Middle School that contains office space. Depending on the weather, Anderson said they are repairing the roof six to 10 times a year. Additionally, the current type of roof at Southwest makes it tough to locate the source of a leak. He said the district is looking at replacing the roof with a built-up roof using insulation tar, which it has on most other buildings in the district, excluding Albert Lea High School.

• $465,000 for curb repair at Sibley Elementary School and parking lot and curb repair at Southwest Middle School.

• $20,000 for plumbing updates at Hawthorne Elementary School. Anderson said some work was started this year at Hawthorne, the oldest school in the district, but some plumbing needs to be replaced.

• $60,000 toward replacing heat pumps at the high school. Anderson said this is something he has to do every year, as the heat pumps were intended to last 15 to 17 years. Twenty years later, the school is replacing seven this summer. There are 185 heating pumps at the school, and this is the fourth year of replacements, Anderson said.

Last year, the school board decided to underlevy for long-term facilities maintenance funding, Deputy superintendent Lori Volz said, meaning the board did not issue a levy for the full amount of funding they were allowed by the state. Volz said the board will have to decide, at a future meeting, whether they will do so again.

School board member Jill Marin said the board should be conscious moving ahead that taxes would not increase over their current level, acknowledging that promise was regarding a portion of their taxes.

“To me, there is integrity in, if we’re making that promise, we have to somehow keep that promise,” Marin said. “… We are not maximizing a funding source. We are taxing people with, and of course there are necessities that we need to do, but we also need to stand by the promise that we have made them.”

Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said long-term facilities maintenance funding levies were not included in a promise to the community related to tax increases.

“My comments to the public was, ‘Our facilities request for the improvement at Hammer Field, the high school and Halverson would be a zero increase on the taxpayers,’” Funk said. “It had nothing to do with, with year-to-year increases that potentially we may, or decreases we potentially may have related to other pieces of the local taxing.”

Funk did not recommend the board “suddenly start cutting back” on other opportunities for funding district projects.

Long-term facilities maintenance funding includes an aid ration from the state that accounts for 51 percent of project funding, Volz said.

“The state is providing a big bulk of that funding stream, so that really helps — helps the local taxpayer,” Volz said after the meeting.

Because long-term facilities maintenance has its own funding stream, the school board voted at an earlier meeting to remove it from the operating capital budget. Removing it from this area of the budget means spending that money won’t factor into the district’s actual expenditure tally, which Volz said would put an additional challenge on meeting spending policies.

“What we’re doing is making a more realistic fund-balance goal,” Volz said.

That removal, along with another budget shift removing a state-paid contribution on the district’s behalf, contributed to 2018-19’s fiscal year budget coming out with a slight net gain of $2,533.

“That’s as close to break even as we could ever achieve, so that just means our revenues are basically equal to our expenses in our plans,” she said.

In other action:

Chris Dibble addressed the board, announcing his position shift from dean of students at Albert Lea High School to principal at Southwest Middle School. Former Southwest principal Steve Kovach has moved to Hastings Public Schools. Dibble will start in under two weeks, he said.

“I’m here for a longer term, I hope,” Dibble said. “Glad to be a part of the team.”

The school board approved a resolution calling for election of school board members as part of the general election on Nov. 6. The filing period opens July 31 and closes Aug. 14. There will be four members elected to the school board. Board members Mark Ciota, Dave Klatt and Jill Marin’s terms will expire in January, and therefore their positions on the board are up for re-election. There is also a seat being added to the board.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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