Realizing a dream

Pulling a quote from the Barron Area School District’s mission statement, Superintendent Diane Tremblay said that the approval of $24.5 million in bonding through a passed referendum will help students achieve their dreams. Projects for the funding are spread across the district, including Riverview Middle School.                                                           Photo by Ryan Urban

With Spring Election votes verified Tuesday, April 13, by the Barron Area School District Board of Canvassers $24.5 million in upgrades throughout the district are set to go forward.

Voters said yes to Question #1 by a 737-725 margin. The question asked voters for approval to borrow $24.5 million to pay for safety and security upgrades, district-wide capital maintenance projects and additions and renovations to support educational programming. A second question to build a $1.9 million child care facility failed 685 yes to 775 no.

“We are so grateful for our Barron and Dunn County constituencies for passing the BASD Referendum Question 1 in our April 6 election,” said Barron school superintendent Diane Tremblay. “This resolution addresses educational adequacy, safety and security and infrastructure upgrades for our Barron Area School District. In addition, this solution aligns effectively with our strategic planning and ensures that we achieve our District mission. Thank you for truly Backing our Bears!”

The next step for the district is to proceed with the design schedule layed out by construction and architectural partners, Miron Construction and ISG Architecture & Planning.

“We will begin gathering necessary information of the existing school systems and will meet with our staff, administration and coaches to gather feedback on proposed designs,” said Tremblay. “Our current drawings will be updated based on user feedback and further developed to show more detail as the design process continues.”

The design phase is expected to last through 2021, with bidding and construction to start in 2022. Gym construction is anticipated for completion in October of 2022, while various other infrastructure improvements will be staggered throughout 2022 and 2023.

The district will also begin work to secure the $24.5 million in bonds for the project.

District finance director Andrew Sloan said, “Many of the improvements are things you can’t actually see.”

Sloan gave the example of outdated HVAC systems throughout the district. He said some Riverview Middle School classrooms have been known to have frost on the wall in the morning and be 90 degrees by the afternoon.

The foundation for the proposed referendum is about $16.6 million in general maintenance in buildings and outdoor infrastructure as well as safety and security features across the district.

On top of that, there are a dozen specific proposed upgrades, with estimated costs, including:

• At Woodland Elementary: Multi-purpose cafeteria addition and bleachers ($948,000), instructional media center update ($200,000).

• At Riverview Middle School: Tech ed updates ($482,000), tech ed equipment ($100,000) traffic flow improvements and additional parking ($350,000).

• At Barron High School: Science classroom update ($390,000), instructional media center finish update ($280,000), small group breakout space, competitive gym addition ($4.6 million), traffic flow improvements and additional parking ($250,000).

The $16.6 million in general maintenance is split across the district as follows:

• $75,208 to the District Office.

• $80,505 to Almena Elementary.

• $376,804 to Ridgeland-Dallas Elementary.

• $3.9 million to Woodland Elementary.

• $5.6 million to Riverview Middle School.

• $6.9 million to Barron High School, including $371,274 in safety and security upgrades.

Some of the upgrades were part of past referenda that failed.

The last referendum proposed by the district was in spring of 2017 for $7 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a new gymnasium and associated areas, remodel the existing gym by removing the stage to create more space, and buy necessary furnishings, fixtures and equipment. The referendum failed by a vote of 516 yes, 656 no, with relatively sparse voter turnout.

In 2012 and 2016 voters approved smaller referenda that allowed the district to exceed levy limits, each for a period of 5 years.

The district organized a large information campaign for the referendum in advance of the Spring Election.

Sloan said he, Tremblay and other school officials gave about 30 presentations to community groups and local government boards. Information was transmitted in print, online and via radio ads.

The cause also garnered help from boosters in all district communities.

For Question #1, yes votes were most prevalent in Barron (330-200), Almena (60-28) and Ridgeland (23-7). There was far less support in the Town of Maple Grove (60 yes, 127 no), Town of Dallas (42-81), Town of Clinton (54-63) and Town of Barron (76-82).