With election season fast approaching, Brandon-Evansville School District residents are gearing up for another referendum vote.
They will be asked to approve a $19.9 million levy to renovate and expand the current Brandon School, with an additional question asking to approve $5.3 million. The funds from the second question, if approved, will be used to add a gym, locker rooms and Charger Kids Club area to the renovated Brandon facility.
Portions of the Evansville School would still be used, but it is not yet determined exactly what it would be used for.
Throughout the summer, the school board and school officials continued to work on how to make much-needed investments in the two aging schools. Their work led to a new plan for residents to consider, according to Superintendent Don Peschel.
“With no significant investments in more than 40 years, we have reached a point where regular maintenance is not enough to keep our buildings safe, secure and in working order,” he said. “Meanwhile, our growing enrollment is expected to expand even more, surging 17 percent over the next decade.”
For more than a year, teachers, staff, district residents and school board members have discussed how to address the challenges, which Peschel said has not been an easy task.
Issues with aging buildings, as well as grade configuration and long-term operational costs were at the forefront of items the district has needed to address.
The biggest challenge, according to Peschel, was trying to decide once again whether the district should continue operating two buildings or reconfigure and put all students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 under one roof.
After many discussions, plus feedback from the community, he said the consensus was for one building. “We need to make investments that will provide students with a healthy learning environment and prepare them for today’s workforce.”
Through meetings, discussions and surveys, the majority of residents were clear that renovating the existing Brandon school into a PreK-12 facility was the best choice for long-term success, Peschel said, compared to renovating and maintaining two buildings in two towns. In addition, the expectation was to put together a less-expensive plan than the one voters rejected in 2017.
What that in mind, he said, the school board took action on two major steps.
First, the board approved what Peschel called one of the district’s most urgent projects – replacing the boilers in the Brandon building and upgrading the ventilation infrastructure in both Brandon and Evansville.
The Minnesota Legislature authorizes school boards to make necessary health and safety improvements using long-term facilities maintenance bonds, backed by a local levy, he said. At an August school board meeting, the board approved the $7.8 million investment.
“School board members decided that students and staff should not have to wait another year for cleaner air and safer boilers,” said Peschel.
If the November referendum passes, he said, the new boilers could fit well with the other renovation projects.
The second major step is moving forward with the referendum and asking districts residents to basically vote on having one PreK-12 site.
According to Peschel, the largest component of the plan will be transitioning the Brandon facility into the one-site model. Ultimately, the school board determined that maintaining one facility is the best financial option over the long term, he said.
“The plan is expected to lower overhead expenses, reduce the costs of operations and maintenance, and be more energy-efficient than the current facilities,” Peschel said. “With upgraded security measures, the renovated Brandon facility would provide a healthier and safer learning environment for students and staff. And it would also meet federal accessibility standards, making our school usable for all members of the community.”
If the referendum passes, the addition to the Brandon facility would provide more classrooms, while the existing classrooms would be redesigned for how teachers teach and students learn in today’s world. The new classroom configurations, along with the equipment, he said, would create an environment for creativity and flexibility, which in turn could help students be more successful.
“Throughout this process, community feedback and engagement have been essential in shaping this plan,” Peschel said. “Residents have provided a wide range of ideas, sharp questions and clear priorities.”
Peschel stressed that the district will continue to communicate as best it can with the community throughout the rest of the process. If anyone has questions, he encourages them to contact him at 320-834-4084 or email@example.com. More information, along with a tax impact calculator, can be found on the project’s website, www.bechargersunited.com.
“We are excited about the future of our school district and are deeply committed to our mission to make sure each and every child is ready for life after graduation,” said Peschel. “And we are grateful for your ongoing support.”