Grand Forks Public Schools eyes $16 million bond for school upgrades

Committee's recommendation is set to head to a meeting of the School Board on Monday.

Mark Sanford Center Grand Forks schools logo sign tower.jpg
The Mark Sanford Education Center, headquarters of Grand Forks Public Schools. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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GRAND FORKS — Money from last fall’s property tax referendum is set to begin hitting Grand Forks Public Schools’ bank account this spring, and school district leaders might use a large portion of that cash to borrow millions to fix up the district’s schools.

Members of the district’s finance committee voted unanimously on Wednesday night to recommend that the district sell about $16 million worth of 20-year bonds to pay for a series of so-far-unspecified repairs and upgrades. To repay those bonds, the district would spend about $1 million of the $2.5 million finance staff there expect they’ll get each year from a 10-mill levy Grand Forks-area voters approved in September.

The committee is comprised of School Board members, and their recommendation is set to head to a meeting of the board proper on Monday.

The maneuver would “magnify” the impact of the levy money in the short term, but would tie up a portion of that revenue stream for years and years, Scott Berge, the district’s business manager, told committee members.

Related: With more maintenance money incoming, Grand Forks Public Schools weighs its finance plans


School officials also considered a 20-year, $24 million bond plan that would gobble up about $1.5 million of the $2.5 million provided by the new levy each year, but some worried it would be too drastic of a step.

“I would be afraid that we would be dipping into the general fund balance every year,” committee member Doug Carpenter said as others nodded.

Last fall’s vote increased from 10 mills to 20 the amount of property tax revenue set to head to the district’s building fund each year. The $2.5 million it received from the existing 10-mill levy was already pointed toward other debt repayments. The district is set to finish repaying about half of that debt by 2029 and the remainder by 2034, Berge told committee members, which would mean corresponding portions of that $2.5 million could be spent elsewhere.

“I’m good with the $1 million ... knowing, in seven years, we free up more money,” committee member Bill Palmiscno said. “Hopefully nothing major comes up within that seven years.”

Committee members chuckled, and a few knocked on the wooden conference tables arranged for their meeting.

Related: $260.9 million maintenance list is Grand Forks Public Schools' most comprehensive in decades, staff say

District staff produced a set of about $17.8 million worth of “life safety” and air quality projects for which the $16 million bond could help pay. Those include modernizing the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems at Kelly, Lewis and Clark, Viking and Wilder elementary schools, plus upgrading the fire alarm, mass notification and public address systems at each of the district’s schools.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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