Roseville school district seeks building bond for updates and space


A science room at Roseville Area Middle School. Science teachers use the same space for teaching and laboratory time. Approval of the district’s building bond would create funding to build separate space for teaching and science labs. Mike Munzenrider

Roseville Area Middle School was built in 1963. It was originally Frank B. Kellogg High School and sporadically upgraded over the years, the last time being in 2004. Mike Munzenrider

School desks stored in a cafeteria at Roseville Area Middle School are indicative of the Roseville Area School District’s need for more space. “Here’s our lack of storage,” says Todd Lieser, the district’s supervisor of building grounds. “We have nowhere to put the chairs.” Because of the lack of space and increasing enrollment, the district is asking voters to approve a $144 million building bond this fall that will upgrade and expand the district’s 11 buildings. Mike Munzenrider

Roseville Area Middle School’s gyms would be improved if the district’s building bond request is approved. Mike Munzenrider

Non-voter approved Long-Term Facilities Maintenance funding, $12 million of which that was approved by the school board this summer, will be used to improve heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, among other things, at Roseville schools. Roseville Area Middle School’s boilers were installed when the school was built in 1963. Mike Munzenrider

Community meetings scheduled to shore up ‘yes’ votes for $144 million bond

 

As clean and organized as it might be, Roseville Area Middle School is beginning to show its age.

Students use outdated equipment in the science labs while empty spaces fill the tech lab, as technology continues to shrink. The school’s cavernous series of gyms, connected by deteriorating or non-functioning doors, looks like something out of a throwback television series, while storage spaces overflow. Outside, the school’s old cinder track is being consumed by the lawn.

The 54-year-old building, a poster child for many of the Roseville Area School District’s facility issues, spurred on by growing enrollment, are what the district is hoping to address with a proposed $144 million building bond, on which residents will vote this fall.

The money, collected through an increase in property taxes, will be used to upgrade and expand facilities at the middle school, Roseville Area High School, Fairview Community Center and the district’s eight other schools.

The Roseville School Board already approved $12 million of Long-Term Facilities Maintenance money, a combination of a non-voter-approved property tax increase and state aid, to be used this year to meet the district’s most pressing needs. 

The LTFM cash will be used to update aged heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems in buildings, along with maintaining roofs, walls, floors, windows and sidewalks.

The last time the district asked for a building bond was in 1992. Roseville Superintendent Dr. Aldo Sicoli says it was the largest ask in state history up until that point, and it got all the district’s buildings into good shape. He says a quarter-century on, it’s time for another investment.

 

“Just like our homes, if we put off things for a period of time, there comes a time when you need to invest a larger amount,” he says.

If the building bond is approved, according to the district, the owner of a home worth $250,000 — the district’s median value — can expect to see a $468 increase in their annual property taxes. That figure includes the non-voter approved increases for the LTFM money.

Voters will have their say on Election Day, Nov. 7.

 

The process

The district arrived at its request for nearly $150 million, to be brought in over 20 years, after a lengthy community review.

Sicoli says he and the board began looking at the district’s facility needs shorty after he took over for former Superintendent John Thein in the summer of 2015, with discussions beginning in earnest that October.

The district hired Wold Architects to asses its buildings and to work with staff to understand their uses, and conducted an enrollment study. Current district materials state last school year’s enrollment of some 7,500 students was the highest since 1983, and a 15.3 percent enrollment increase is forecast through the next decade.

The district convened three criteria committees, which studied the physical condition of facilities, how students use them and how the community uses them, Sicoli says. Once the criteria committees finished their work, the baton was passed to two more committees, an options committee made up of 53 district staffers and community members, and a finance committee.

The school board approved the option and finance committees’ recommendations on June 27 this year, authorizing the referendum, that same day voting to move forward with the Long-Term Facilities Maintenance money. Sicoli says more than 100 people were involved with the various committees.

“I think it was a good process and I really appreciate people devoting their time and thinking to this process because we really needed to hear different points of view,” he says.

 

BUILDING BOND COMMUNITY MEETINGS: The Roseville Area School District is holding four community meetings to discuss the district’s $144 million building bond that residents will vote on Nov. 7. Each meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Todd Lieser, the district’s supervisor of building grounds, will give tours of the school building where each meeting is being held starting at 6 p.m. to show how and where the bond money will be spent. The meetings are:

 

• Sept. 19 in the Fairview Community Center Great Room, 1910 County Road B in Roseville.

• Sept. 25 in the Little Canada Elementary School Cafeteria, 400 Eli Road in Little Canada.

• Oct. 12 in the Roseville Area High School Auditorium, 1240 County Road B2 in Roseville.

• Oct. 30 in the Roseville Area Middle School Auditorium, 15 County Road B2 in Little Canada.

 

Inside RAMS

Roseville Area Middle School hummed the second Tuesday of the school year as Todd Lieser, the district’s supervisor of building grounds, and Carrie Ardito, the district’s communications supervisor, gave a tour of the building.

RAMS was built in 1963 and was formerly Frank B. Kellogg High School. That was until the mid-1980s, when the district merged Kellogg with Alexander Ramsey High School — Roseville Area High School is in the former Alexander Ramsey building.

Sicoli says he coached the sophomore boys basketball team out of Kellogg around the time of the merger — “It’s sad to see how it’s deteriorated.”

Lieser began the tour of the school with the science classrooms, many of which require teachers to use the same space for their lessons and labs. 

He says the building bond would take care of that issue, creating dedicated teaching and laboratory spaces, while the facilities maintenance money would update the rooms’ ventilation systems, taking care of that persistent and distinct science classroom smell.

He led the way into a packed storage room marked both “Elevator Equipment Room Access” and “Danger, Chemical Storage Area.” Lieser says there isn’t a good option when it comes to storage at the school.

Strolling through a cafeteria, he pointed out a pile of school desks on a stage, opposite lunch tables.

“Here’s our lack of storage,” he says. “We have nowhere to put the chairs.”

Students played volleyball in front of a gym mural that recounts Kellogg’s gymnastics exploits from 30 years ago, while beneath the school, the boilers, mammoth machines original to 1963, cooked away.

Though RAMS and other district schools may seem familiar to current students’ parents and grandparents, Ardito says that doesn’t mean they’re still effective places for learning.

“Just because you went to [a school that looks like this] doesn’t make it OK,” she says, shifting to what’s considered today’s education best practices. “It comes down to the way kids learn and how teachers teach.”

 

It isn’t open enrollment

Both Sicoli and Ardito say the number one concern heard about the building bond from residents is that it’s the result of open enrollment.

“We’re definitely not building new facilities because of open enrollment,” Sicoli says. “We’re honored to educate students, [but] we can’t take all the students we’d like to because we don’t have the space.”

Last school year, the district had an inflow of about 1,500 students, and an outflow of some 1,000, Sicoli says; the outflow does not include students who left the district for private schools. 

The net inflow was fewer than 500 students, with the true number being even lower, he says, because of Harambee Elementary School’s former magnet school status. In all, the number of open enrollment students entering the district does not justify the building bond, he says.

 

Sicoli points out, too, that open enrollment in the district was closed this year for grades 7-12.

Instead, Ardito says, it’s resident students who are leading enrollment growth.

“Roseville is fortunate to have families who want to send their kids here,” she says. “We have a fabulously diverse school district — it’s an advantage.”

Other factors that are widely seen as improvements in education, they say, such as pre-K and all-day kindergarten, programs not around 50 years ago when the majority of the district buildings were built, are contributing to the need for more space.

 

WHAT'S YOUR COST?  --  If voters approve the Roseville Area School District’s $144 million building bond, the owner of a $250,000 home in the district would see a property tax increase of $39 per month, or $468 per year. Those figures include a non-voter property tax increase approved by the school board this summer. To calculate your cost, go to www.isd623.org, click on “Building Bond 2017,” then click on “Property Tax Calculator.”

 

‘We haven’t asked for it’

Though this is the first time the school district has asked for a building bond in 25 years, in that time frame it has requested increases to its operating levy three times, the most recent of which was in 2013.

According to Sicoli, the most recent increase in the operating levy, as well as one in 2006, did not effectively raise residents’ property tax burdens.

Both Sicoli and Ardito say that out of the 40 school districts in the metro area, residents who live in the Roseville Area School District are taxed the least for schools.

“A given homeowner pays the lowest property tax if they live in our district,” Sicoli says.

Ardito says various economic events, most recently the Great Recession, forced the district to delay its building bond, which is reflected in the district’s property tax rate. “It’s the lowest since we haven’t asked for it,” she says.

Sicoli says roughly half of the metro’s 40 school districts are out for a bond this year, pointing out that residents in the Mounds View Public Schools District will be voting on a $165 million building bond this fall. 

“A lot of districts are facing space issues, and overall, in the state enrollment is increasing a little bit in the past few years,” he says.

As of now, the district has no Plan B if the referendum were to fail. 

“If it doesn’t pass, we’ll definitely have discussions [about what to do] as soon as possible,” Sicoli says, adding, “We’re just going to work hard to get the info out. Obviously, we think there’s a need, or we wouldn’t [be holding the referendum].”

 

For more information about the building bond go to www.isd623.org and click on the “Building Bond 2017” button.

 

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813


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