With growing enrollment, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo prepares for $24.9 million school referendum
To accommodate the growth in the schools, the district is sending a $24.9 million referendum to voters on Nov. 8 that would fund an addition between the existing high school and elementary school and other capital improvements in the district.
WARREN, Minn. – Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Public Schools is preparing to ask voters for $24.8 million for a school addition in November after school officials say the district’s enrollment has outgrown existing facilities.
Five years ago, says Superintendent Kirk Thorstenson, WAO Public Schools had approximately 100 fewer students enrolled in K-12 than it does today. Up 22% since 2017’s count of 445 students, 543 students are currently enrolled in the district.
“It’s slowly gone up and it hasn’t plateaued for us,” he said.
Not included in that total is an additional 52 pre-kindergarten students who attend classes in the elementary school. With sixth grade already in the combined middle and high school building, the elementary school this year is at capacity. The district is still waiting for a temporary, portable classroom to arrive for fifth-grade students.
To accommodate the growth, the district is sending a $24.9 million referendum to voters on Nov. 8 that would fund an addition between the existing high school and elementary school, renovations in the high school and other capital improvements in the district.
The addition would create four new elementary classrooms, two for fifth grade and two for sixth grade. An elementary gymnasium, elementary music rooms, a shared kitchen for the schools and administrative offices for the district would be included in the addition. In the high school, classrooms, science rooms, music rooms, the auditorium and other rooms would be renovated and repurposed.
Of the total amount, $6.9 million would go toward other capital improvements in the district, such as addressing accessibility issues, installing a new heating and air conditioning system in the high school, updating electrical infrastructure and installing new sprinkler systems.
The plans for the addition, renovations and maintenance were informed by a facilities assessment conducted by Grand Forks-based ICON Architectural Group in October 2021, which identified areas for improvement and maintenance in the two buildings. In both schools, classrooms, music rooms and cafeterias were found to be smaller than recommended by the Minnesota Department of Education.
After the facilities assessment, a facilities committee was put together to look at the findings of the assessment and come up with recommendations for the district to solve the problems identified. The committee developed three recommendations, said Thorstenson, ranging in price from $18.44 million to $24.9 million.
Before the School Board put together a ballot question, the district conducted a survey among community members asking how likely they would be to support each referendum amount. According to the results of the survey, 66.95% of those surveyed said they would definitely support or probably support a $24.9 million capital referendum.
“That was the information that the board had going forward as far as to make a decision of which option to go with,” said Thorstenson. “The other two had very favorable percentages as well.”
In July, the WAO School Board voted unanimously to put the referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election.
Passing the referendum would increase property taxes for 20 years beginning in 2023. For owners of a residential property with an estimated market value of $100,000, the addition and renovation would cost an additional $117 per year. For owners of a commercial property worth $100,000, it would cost an additional $244 per year.
For agricultural properties, Minnesota’s School Building Bond Agricultural Credit comes into play, which lessens the tax impact for farmers in the region. With the agricultural credit, the state of Minnesota would fund around 53% of the project because of the amount of agricultural land in the district, said Thorstenson.
“This is something that I’m telling people, for instance: If somebody said that they would buy 53% of something for me, I’d try to find the other 47%,” said Thorstenson.
Voters can also find their personalized annual tax impact with the tax impact calculator by Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, the district’s financial advisor for the project.
Next week, WAO Public Schools is hosting a series of meetings for community members to learn about the proposed project. The meetings will take place at 7 p.m. each night, with the first on Monday, Sept. 26 in the WAO High School Auditorium in Warren. The second is on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Oslo Community Center and the last is on Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Alvarado Community Center. The district will also hold a meeting one week before the election, on Tuesday, Nov. 1.