$109M proposal passed in referendum vote

Voters respond with a resounding ‘yes’ to the high school expansion and new elementary school

Voters cast their ballot in the referendum vote at Wayzata High School on Feb. 25. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)
Voters cast their ballot in the referendum vote at Wayzata High School on Feb. 25. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins)

by Jason Jenkins

Sun sailor Newspapers

Voters made their way to six polling locations Feb. 25 to collectively answer “yes” to both school funding questions on the referendum ballot in Wayzata School District.

Supt. Chace Anderson said he and other members of the school board were assembled at the district office as the polls closed, patiently watching the results as they came in. One by one a spreadsheet was updated on the City of Plymouth’s website. At around 9:30 p.m., the last of the results had been tallied. “It was the end result of three to four years of really hard work by our school board, our staff and people taking a really close look at our existing facilities,” Anderson said. “We’ve worked hard at this and it’s a very exciting moment for us to have been able to get this type of endorsement from our community.”

The board had voted unanimously to submit the bonding package for voter approval at an October 2013 meeting.

Wayzata Schools Board Chair Linda Cohen cited two reasons she believes the questions passed by a large margin – teamwork and trust.

“The teamwork aspect was really important and certainly led by a lot of hard work,” Cohen said. “The trust that our community has in the district … and the trust there is between the board, the administration, the staff, the faculty, our families and our students.”

With the unofficial vote tally of 3,818 to 1,107, question one was approved, allowing for $109.645 million in bond funding.

The proposal includes the 172,000 square-foot expansion of Wayzata High School, building of an eighth elementary school and upgrades to safety, security and technology infrastructure district wide.

The expansion on the high school facility in Plymouth will add classroom space for 700 additional students with a 68,704 square-foot academic wing on the east side of the school. The addition will increase the school’s classroom capacity to 3,900.

The second question, also approved by a substantial margin, is the request of a renewal for the existing technology levy. The levy funds technology equipment, support and training district wide with approximately $2.7 million annually.

With the unofficial vote total of 3,922 to 988, question two saw an 80 percent approval rate, giving an additional 10-year extension to an existing capital project authorization scheduled to expire in 2016. The extension will be at the same rate as the previous year and have no effect on property taxes.

Anderson said the need for expansion is a response to the anticipated growth the area will see in the next decade.

More than 1,600 new housing developments are expected within the school district in the next four years. According to the school district, kindergarten through 12th grade resident student enrollment is anticipated to grow twice as fast in the next 10 years as it has in the past decade, with up to 900 more students predicted at WHS.

The total project cost for the WHS expansion is estimated at $69.72 million, $7.4 million of which is dedicated to land purchase.

While the decision for the WHS expansion came at a 78 percent approval, some opposition to the project has been expressed in the community.

“Any time you bring a facility plan to a community there are always going to be those with varying opinions,” Anderson said. “I think the plan we brought forth was well thought out and a great plan that was a good response to the growth that we’re anticipating.”

Some members of the community believed a second high school might be a better solution to the area’s growing population.

In an attempt to answer these concerns, a Wayzata Schools Community Task Force on Facilities performed a case study on the 4,400-student Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind.. The study examined how a similarly large school could operate while keeping a graduation rate of over 95 percent and provide a high level of education to students.

Wayzata Schools Executive Director of Finance and Business Jim Westrum sees the outcome as a confirmation that a single-high school system can work.

“This is a huge affirmation that we are a one-high school community, and that we want to be united,” Westrum said.

Anderson and board chair Cohen also stated their support of the one-high school system.

“It gives all of our students within the school district the opportunity to attend the same outstanding high school,” Anderson said.

“The kinds of course offerings one can offer with those kinds of resources concentrated in one high school are phenomenal,” Cohen said.

Also approved was the construction of the district’s eighth elementary school. The new school will allow for 760 more students in an 83,000 square-foot building. The cost for the new school is around $26.1 million.

Designs for the elementary school will begin after a site is purchased. Construction on the new school is expected to begin by summer 2015.

Nearly $14 million will be spent on district-wide infrastructure improvements to help provide energy saving options, technology infrastructure upgrades between buildings and improved entrance security at all district buildings.

Westrum says plans for how the debt will be structured are still underway, but has a timeline of when it will be paid off.

“It will be highly likely that in 21 years the district will be debt-free,” Westrum said.

The bond package has been calculated to have an annual tax impact of $123 on the average Wayzata homeowner based on a $333,900 home value.

Next, the Wayzata Schools Facilities Committee will develop designs and construction plans and reconfirm timelines for the WHS addition, elementary school and infrastructure improvements. Safety and security improvements are slated to begin in the summer.

Construction on the WHS addition will likely begin late fall and continue for nearly two years.

Both the high school expansion and elementary school are projected to be open to students in fall 2016.

Contact Jason Jenkins at [email protected]