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Hancock school construction takes big step forward

HANCOCK, Minn. -- Sometime within the next six to nine months, Hancock voters will be asked a big question. They will be asked to approve a possible $3.9 million levy for the construction of a two-story classroom wing. There will not be enough time to get this on the November ballot so the Hancock School board members decided to aim for the later part of winter, 2013.

The school board held a special meeting on July 27 to discuss the construction and funding options. The first part of the meeting dealt with various options for the construction. Don Lifto and Patty Heminover of Springsted presented two options.

The first option was to do a lease levy authority to construct the two or three classrooms needed initially. The district could borrow about $350,000 from the lease levy without asking for taxpayer approval. This money comes from a fund based on the district's per pupil unit.

With this option, the district would need to use some of its fund balance to finance the rest of the project which was not appealing to the board members. It would also cost more money than the second option presented.

In option two, the district would ask voters to approve a $3.9 million referendum to be used for construction. This new referendum would be wrapped around existing referendums in that the district would only pay interest on the money until the other debts are paid off. This amount would be enough to build the needed classrooms plus do updating and remodeling in other areas of the school.

Lifto and Heminover also presented estimates of how a 20 year referendum for this amount would affect taxes. A $100,000 home would probably see about a $32 increase per year in taxes. A $150,000 home would see a $56 increase. Non-homestead farm land would go up about $2.50 per acre per year. Commercial property valued at $100,000 would see a $67 per year increase.

The Springsted numbers were only estimates but should be close if not too many variables change the plans. The Hancock school board members felt that these numbers were "doable" and that the need is great enough to proceed. It was also noted that with the low interest rates right now, it would be a good time to do something like this.

The discussion then moved to the actual construction plans. Since the last board meeting, a special construction committee met and came up with another plan for the school. This plan would be to keep the shop building and construct a two story addition on the current playground site. This would also include an elevator and bathrooms on the top floor which would then connect to the top floor of the current high school building. This top floor would essentially be for the majority of secondary classrooms.

The committee members felt that it would be better to have all the new construction in one area in case something would happen and the 1920 building needed to be vacated or removed. This way there would not be new additions at different areas of the old building.

The biggest question for the board members was if a six classroom addition would be enough or if eight rooms would be needed. Some of the current spaces in the high school would also be remodeled but rooms such as the science room and shop, would not have to be relocated. This would save some money in the project.

There are several steps that need to be taken now. The board members directed the construction committee to "hammer out what was needed and sharpen costs." At the regular August meeting, it is hoped to approve a specific plan and then contact contractors for drawings and estimates.

This information, plus financing options, needs to be submitted to the Department of Education in the form of a Review and Comment. The Department of Education can then question aspects of the project before approval. The plan cannot be submitted to voters until after this approval.

After this is approved, there are public meetings and publications that need to take place. In essence, the district is looking at a four to five month process before the vote is taken.

If voters approve the construction, the board is hoping to open up the bids as early as possible so construction could begin next spring or summer. The special construction committee met this week to start to finalize plans for approval at the August meeting.