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Morris school officials say maintenance not deferred

Morris Area School District superintendent Rick Lahn talks during the Sept. 25 presentation on the proposed $19 million referendum on a facilities project. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times.

The question seemed inevitable. Why did the school district wait so long to repair problems in the junior and senior high building at Morris Area Schools?

Superintendent Rick Lahn said the question has been asked often in the past several weeks. Lahn and school board chairman Dick Metzger answered it again at a Sept. 25 presentation of a proposed $19.2 million bond referendum to make repairs and improvements in the building.

School districts are on tight budgets, Lahn said.

The repairs needed now are larger than any school district budget will allow, Metzger said.

The district cannot ask voters to approve a one or two million dollar referendum every two to three years, Lahn said.

"School districts are never in a position to do big renovation (projects) without taxpayer approved referendums," Lahn said.

The repairs and improvements in the proposed project include replacing water pipes, sanitary sewer pipes and the building's boiler. Those are all very expensive projects, Lahn said.

District resident Paul Sperr said after the bond referendum presentation that he's not sure he'd support the proposed project.

"We're still reeling from the (elementary) building," Sperr said. The school built an elementary building in 2005. "Nineteen million is a little tough to swallow," Sperr said of the 2017 proposed referendum.

Lahn said during the presentation the district has a responsibility to get the most useful life from a facility before it makes some major repairs. Sperr said he's concerned the building may have been allowed to get run down.

Metzger said during the presentation the district has not ignored regular maintenance because it has fixed the roof, parking lot and made other repairs over the past five years.

Sperr believes there is room to trim the proposed project costs. "My hope is that it won't pass the first time so they have to trim it back more," he said.

Lahn and Metzger said during the presentation that the board has reviewed possible projects for more than a year. Winkelman Building had given the district a project list with a cost of about $27 million in the beginning and that proposal was trimmed to $19.2 million, school officials said.

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