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The new Hall High School

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 11:57 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 3:59 p.m. CDT

SPRING VALLEY — The opinion of the 20-some people in attendance at Hall High School's community input meeting Monday was generally unanimous.

The school district needs a new building.

But the answers to the how and when questions weren't so clear.

The Hall Board hired an architect earlier this year to do an assessment of the building. After weighing a variety of options, in September the board approved building a new school at a cost of $32 million and demolishing all of the current buildings. The alternative would be $18 million in required renovations.

On Monday, the school held its second community input meeting. Superintendent Mike Struna said the board needed to decide whether to move forward and put a referendum question on the April 2013 ballot.

Audience member John Piccatto Sr. asked about the state construction grant program, which would reimburse the district for a portion of the cost based on the district's poverty level — probably in the range of 50 to 60 percent.

Struna said the aging condition of the building would not play a factor in moving the district up on the grant program's list, but it could mean more money when the district reaches the top of the list.

Audience member Keith Burkman asked if the district would get the money even after the project is completed, and Struna said yes.

Struna said the district would also be eligible for reimbursement if it chose the $18 million renovation project instead.

The big unanswered question at the previous meeting was the cost to homeowners. Struna provided the estimated numbers, assuming borrowing $32 million with a 25-year payback and no increase in the district's assessed valuation.

Struna said the average home value in Spring Valley is $108,000 and $110,000 in Ladd. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the homeowner would pay an additional $29 per month or $348 per year until the current bond issue for renovations in 1997 is paid off in 2017. After that bond issue dropped off, homeowners would not pay any more, but $41 of each monthly payment would go toward paying off the new school.

"This is in addition to what we're paying now?" asked audience member Walt Marini.

"Yes," Struna said.

That figure isn't set in stone. First, it is based on no increase in EAV, and Struna said a conservative estimate would be a 1 percent annual growth.

In addition, that doesn't include when the district would receive any money from the state construction grant program. Struna said the board could abate the tax levy for the bonds when that would happen.

One audience member had a question about the design of the new building, which would be a multi-story building directly north of the current school.

Struna said the multi-story building is no more expensive than a single story building, which would have extra costs for roofing and heating. In addition, the multi-story would allow for shorter transit times between classes and be better educationally.

Audience member Rick Piontek asked about the difficulty in passing the referendum in Spring Valley, which is also looking at the expansion of the John F. Kennedy School, a new fire truck referendum on the April 2013 ballot, and potentially expensive issues with its water treatment plant.

"You're looking at a lot of money for a lot of different agencies," he said. "How do you expect to pass a referendum?"

Piccatto had a different view. He said people are looking for work and interest rates are good.

Audience member Mary Jane Marini said a lot of people are on fixed incomes.

"I don't know where they will get the money," she said. "You have to have a passion for education and a passion for the town."

Struna said he was concerned the fire truck question would have a major impact on how people would vote, and he questioned whether four months was enough time to do all the work necessary to get the referendum passed.

Struna said the board would need to make a decision soon.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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