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Alexandria tests case for new high school

Should Alexandria start raising money to build a new high school? Yes, according to a study presented to School District 206 administrators and board members Monday night.

The district received a recommendation to move forward with a private capital campaign for $12 million to put toward a new high school complex.

At Monday night's meeting, administrators and school board members were presented with a summary of the results of a capital campaign feasibility study that was conducted in March and April.

The study, presented by Hansen Henley Yoder and Lamb of Minneapolis, was a joint effort between the school board and the school district's Education Foundation.

The purpose of the feasibility study was to test for support, potential donors, volunteer campaign leadership, timing and goal of the campaign and the overall evaluation of internal readiness.

Conceptual plans for a possible new 9-12 grade school would include a community-based performing arts center that would be a venue for attracting arts and cultural performances and events to the region.

The study included confidential interviews with 38 community members representing parents, alumni, business leaders and elected officials.

Here are some of the findings of the study as presented at Monday night's meeting by representatives of Hansen Henley Yoder and Lamb:

•There is a resounding confidence in the work of the district, its leadership, administration and staff. Board members and administrators were told that this is "very rare to find," but outstanding for the district. The overall leadership within the district is perceived as both sound and strong.

•The study indicated five primary areas of strength and uniqueness of the district: excellent academic programming; outstanding arts program including choir and band; outstanding athletic program; strong record of conservative fiscal management; and thoughtful approach to phasing of facilities needs, i.e. Discovery Middle School and Woodland Elementary School.

•The current reputation of the school district was rated excellent or very good by 30 of the 38 survey takers, which is favorable. Michael Henley with Hansen Henley Yoder and Lamb told board members and administrators that this was an "unusual finding" and that the firm usually doesn't find this kind of support.

•When asked if the new high school was a top philanthropic priority, the respondents had a strong response - 21 of the 38 indicated that it was a top priority, a top three priority or a top five priority. Only nine of the 38 listed it as a low priority.

•While 35 of the respondents stated that they would give a gift during the next three years, gift levels cited were low, but the district was told that this was most likely due to the lack of specific information about the project, commitments to other organizations and the impact or perception regarding the economy.

Based on the study, Hansen Henley Yoder and Lamb made a recommendation that the Alexandria Education Foundation and District 206 move ahead with a $12 million private capital campaign.

The funds raised through a capital campaign would be intended for a new high school and reduce the tax impact for district residents.

The firm provided an action plan and timeline that outlines activities over the next several years, which includes:

•Identify campaign leadership and steering committees.

•Develop detailed information about the future high school project.

•Establish different phases of the capital campaign.

Although the board did not take any action at Monday night's meeting on the recommendation, the feasibility study provided the board with direction to help make future decisions about the new high school.