The Grand Forks School Board on Monday will hold its first work session with a St. Paul-based consultant hired to help the district with pre-referendum planning.

Members of the Unesco Inc. firm will work with board members and school district administrators to provide architectural and engineering planning services prior to the referendum in June, when the school district intends to ask voters for a property tax increase. Unesco is being paid $29,500.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16.

Last month, the school district advertised for RFPs, or requests for proposals, which were due Nov. 26. Five proposals were received and scored by Superintendent Terry Brenner; Scott Berge, school district business manager; Chris Arnold, director of buildings and grounds for the district; and Bill Palmiscno, School Board president.

Unesco, which has a branch office in Fargo, scored the highest among proposals that ranged from $29,000 to $85,000, Brenner said. Other firms that submitted proposals were EAPC, JLG Architects and ICON, all of Grand Forks, and ICS Consulting, Inc., of Fargo. The School Board on Dec. 9 voted unanimously to hire Unesco.

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As a “third party neutral,” the firm will also consider using local firms to support its work, Brenner said.

Three Unesco employees attended the board meeting last week and spoke about their experience with other communities preparing for a referendum. The aim of the firm is “to engage the community, and show how the millage is stretched thin,” said Kevin McGauley, Unesco president.

McGauley said he and his colleagues, who specialize in K-12 education, worked recently with a southern Minnesota school district that had closed a school nine months before a successful $24 million referendum vote. He also cited a $47 million referendum at another client district that “passed with a 77% margin.”

His firm has also worked with school districts in Dickinson, Stanley and Beulah, N.D., McGauley said.

In Grand Forks, a heavy emphasis will be placed on engaging the public through polling and in small- and large-group settings.

The firm will analyze information that has been gathered through the ThoughtExchange portal and other sources, as well as the district’s master facilities plan. Three public forums are planned in January through March, Brenner said.

Unesco intends to assemble a community task force, with “diverse membership” of 30 to 40 members, including “the ‘influentials’ in your community,” to assist with pre-referendum planning, McGauley said.

His firm will provide services such as videos, architectural renderings, and conceptual estimates, he said, “then market a proposal that the committee has decided to put before the community.”

In response to a question from School Board member Doug Carpenter regarding the firm’s experience with a referendum encompassing deferred maintenance, McGauley said other firms’ success rate “is 85% to 90%; ours is north of 90%.

“When the (school) district follows our recommendations on size and scale of the referendum, our rate is 100%, because communities want to invest in their infrastructure,” McGauley said.