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Fergus Falls voters to decide on $2.7 million facilities plan

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Supporters of a $2,725,000 plan to replace, repair and upgrade athletic facilities at Kennedy Secondary School here hope the third time is a charm with a May 13 bond vote.

The money would be used to replace the outdoor bleachers at the football field, repair the football and soccer field, expand the track to eight lanes, resurface tennis courts, improve the old baseball field, and re-tile the swimming pool and install new lights and electrical system in the auditorium at Kennedy.

Two previous Fergus Falls School District facilities plans - both much more ambitious - were rejected by voters, including a $5,475,000 plan in April 2013, and a $6,265,000 plan in November 2012.

The latest proposal is leaner - 56 percent cheaper than the 2012 vision. Backers hope its mix of functionality and frugality has gained traction with district patrons.

"We're cautiously optimistic. Hopefully, we'll get a green light this time," said Jean Bowman, executive director of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jerry Ness, the superintendent of schools, has spoken to 25 organizations in the past couple of months to educate the public on the latest plan.

"You name it, we've tried to attend it," Ness said.

Adding urgency to this vote, he said, is the fact that the school's bleachers have been condemned as unsafe and must be replaced.

"We're stuck in a spot here," said Lisa Workman, executive director of the Fergus Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. "If the bond doesn't pass, the bleachers in our football stadium need to be replaced. They'll either fund it through the bond or (the school board must) take it out of their general operating" fund, she said.

That will take money away from teachers and programs, she said.

Upgrading the facilities will make it possible to host sectional and regional track meets, bringing in many teams and filling hotels and restaurants and boosting the local economy, Workman and Bowman said.

The chamber and the CVB have endorsed the bonding proposal.

Workman said 82 percent of chamber members who answered a poll on the plan say they back it.

Ness said the payoff of a 1994 school bond issue brought a big drop in taxes. The school board in December adopted a levy that lowered property taxes 13.1 percent for 2014. Taxes on a $100,000 residential home dropped $60.35 per year and on a $125,000 home, $75.69.

The latest plan, if approved, would raise taxes 1.23 percent, Ness said. That would cost the owner of a $100,000 home another $8.82 per year, and $12.17 on a $125,000 home per year.

A $500,000 commercial or industrial property would see taxes rise $113.74 per year, while four-plex and larger apartment complexes would pay $76.85 more per year on a $500,000 property.

Non-homesteaded agricultural land valued at $5,000 per acre would see taxes go up $196.74 per year on 320 acres.

Ag land at the same value with a $100,000 homestead would see taxes go up $113.40 per year on 320 acres, the school district reports.

People can now vote by absentee ballot, Bowman said. Those ballots are available at the County Government Service Center, 500 Fir Ave. W.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Bond vote

This is what a $2,725,000 bond referendum on May 13 would be used to build at Fergus Falls' Kennedy Secondary School if it is approved:

• Engineering and bond costs $426,247

• Contingency funds $134,216

• General conditions $52,938

• Football field and scoreboard $203,350

• Landscaping, paving, signs, etc. $48,200

• Bleacher demolition A $82,743

• New visitor bleachers $40,000

• Eight-lane track, and field areas $470,665

• Baseball field improvements $238,591

• Auditorium improvements $200,000

• Pool improvements $150,000

• Bleacher demolition B $52,960

• New bleachers $578,090

• Tennis court resurfacing $47,000

Total cost $2,725,000

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

(701) 241-5583