School board weighs options to stay within facilities project budget

At a special board meeting held on May 21, the Hinckley-Finlayson (H-F) School Board learned that FirstLight Health System (FLHS) might not be contributing to the facilities project as planned. The initial contribution requested from FLHS was to be $1 million; it was decreased later to $750,000. Superintendent Rob Prater told the board that as of Monday night, due to circumstances beyond their control, it looked like FLHS could not commit to that amount. This decision would not be final until the FLHS board meets again on June 27.


Before the board meeting, the Community Design Committee met and discussed three options brought to them for the new space, including the gym, fitness center and community education rooms. 


Option 1 is the full project designed by DSGW (the project architect) with input from the design committee. This option includes a two-story plan, with community education rooms, a fitness center and an approximately 1,000-square foot space for FLHS rehabilitation services. This plan also includes a walking track and fitness center, which would both be for public as well as student use.


Option 2 is still the two-story plan, but does not include the walking track.


Option 3 is a one-story plan with the high school office, gym, locker rooms, space for FLHS, community education and fitness center all on the same level. One downside of this option is losing parking space.


When the bonds were sold for the facilities project, they were sold at a rate much lower than expected. As of right now, there is no tax impact on residents. Option 1 would be over budget by approximately $1 million. The district would then have to access what is called a lease levy for those additional funds. If FLHS does commit to the funding, the tax impact would be $8 per year for 15 years. If there is no commitment, it would be approximately $17 per year for 15 years. This option would be ready to send out to bid with very minimal design changes.


With Option 2, the project would still be approximately $500,000 over budget, the district would still have to access lease levy funds and the tax impact (with the FLHS contribution) would be $4 per year for 15 years. Without the commitment from FLHS, it would be approximately $12 per year. Option 2 would require some design changes to take out the walking track, but wouldn’t set the construction start date back too far.


Option 3 would mean not having to access the lease levy funds and there would be no impact on the taxpayers. This option would, however, mean a full redo of the design, which would push the construction start date back past the planned mid-October date. This would most likely cause an increase in construction costs, since there would be more work done in the winter months. 

The committee was presented with a fourth option. This option would be one story with only space for the gym, high school office and concessions. There would be no space for community education rooms, FLHS or a fitness center, and the existing space would be remodeled.


The committee discussed the options for 90 minutes. The bulk of the discussion revolved around the amount of money being spent. Some members of the committee believed if they stayed under the $14 per year impact pledged during the referendum vote, the community members would be okay with that. Some members were worried about the overall dollar amount spent. They believed they should stay under the amount voted on during the referendum. 


In the end, they decided to recommend to the board that Option 2 go out for bids to see how they come back in. The walking track would be added as a contingency, meaning it would be bid out as a separate portion that could be added if the funds are available. The bids could be rejected if they did not come back close to the budget. This would mean cutting pieces out of the project. According to project manager Brandon Kellerman, the bids would be back around the time the FLHS board meeting would take place. 


The school board met right after the Community Design Committee meeting ended. The motion was made to accept the committee recommendation, with the condition that bids must come in under the referendum amount. If they don’t, they go back to the drawing board. The motion was carried unanimously.

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