RUTHTON - Extra chairs had to be set up in order to accommodate everyone in attendance at an informational meeting Thursday evening at the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Elementary School in Ruthton.
More than 325 people turned out to engage in conversation about possible building options within the RTR district.
"I'm pleased with the turnout," RTR Superintendent Bruce Houck said. "The board wanted to have it so that the communities all had a chance to see what was looked at and what was considered. So that was the reason for the meeting."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Jim Wilson, architect for Smiley Glotter Nyberg-Wendel, presented a variety of building options to the 300-plus crowd who attended the informational meeting Thursday at RTR Elementary School in Ruthton.
Houck explained that along with a community building committee, made up of an equal number of people from Russell, Tyler and Ruthton, the RTR School Board, which is also comprised of equal numbers of representatives for the three communities, looked at a number of building options that were designated by letters.
"You'll see that we've skipped some letters, and that's because some of the plans were very close to each other," Houck said. "So, the five plans that you have before you are the five that came out of the community building committee. They recommended option J to the board."
Jim Wilson, from Smiley Glotter Nyberg-Wendel, an architectural firm, presented construction, remodeling and demolition options to the crowd.
"The first thing we did was an analysis of the existing buildings and where they fall relative to building code, light safety issues, accessibility corrections and for maintenance corrections, like roofs, windows, mechanical systems," Wilson said. "We identified $5.5 million in the Tyler building and about $4.5 million in the Ruthton building of things that, over the next 10-15 years, should be addressed."
There's nothing saying that specific issues are required to be addressed immediately, Wilson said, though fire marshal corrections and accessibility complaints could easily arise at any time.
Option G involved tearing out the oldest parts of the Tyler building and remodeling the Ruthton building, with an estimated cost of approximately $14.9 million. That would be the principal bond issue amount.
"As you'll see in almost all of the schemes that involve the Tyler building, we'd be removing the 1918 and 1903 parts of the building," Wilson said. "Those are the parts that have the most significant amount of corrections in that $5.5 million cost. The 1903 building right now can't be used for educational purposes. It's only used for storage, so that makes sense."
Wilson explained that the district would replace the torn out section with an administrative area, a couple of classrooms and then construct a dining commons with a kitchen area in the front of the building. There would also be upgrades necessary for gender equality.
"In the Ruthton building, Option G would remodel, bring things up to code and involve installation of two elevators,"?he said.
The Ruthton site also involved upgrades for the kitchen and cafeteria area, Wilson said.
"We looked at moving the kitchen and cafeteria up to the area that is currently the computer lab and staff area," he said. "That has nice, high ceilings and would actually make a nice lunch room area."
The boiler system at both the Tyler and Ruthton facilities would also be replaced with geo-thermal.
Option I was designed to be the most inexpensive plan possible, while still tackling compliance issues. Total cost was estimated to be $8.45 million.
"In the Tyler building, it actually proved to be more cost-effective to tear out the 1903 and 1918 buildings and replace that with a commons," Wilson said. "It's a similar program that was done in option G, but we tried tightening up the space as much as possible, for a dining area, kitchen, two classrooms and the administration area."
In addition to remodeling locker rooms, most of the plans also involve mechanical upgrades and window replacements, Wilson said. For the Ruthton building, he said, Option I would primarily involve the elevator work to make the building accessible, adding a sprinkler system, upgrading the bathrooms for accessibility, replacing boilers and completing minor mechanical upgrades.
Option J basically evolved from Option I, Wilson said, with the Tyler scheme remaining nearly the same. Total cost is about $11.54 million.
"But we realized that we're spending a fair amount of money to upgrade the 1923 portion of the building (in Tyler)," Wilson said. "It's on kind of a split level than the rest of the building and creates a lot of accessibility issues. It also has mechanical systems that are not compliant in terms of letting fresh air into the building."
With that in mind, the decision was made to incorporate a one-story classroom addition into the Option J plan.
"We'd convert the existing media center into a classroom and staff room and extend the media hallway," Wilson said. "The computer room and staff lounge would be converted to a dining area and a kitchen. The last thing would be to demolish the 1923 building and come back and replace the media center, computer lab and that space. That would also involve toilet upgrades and installing the elevator in the remaining two-story parts of the building."
Option F was put on display for cost comparison purposes. It involved closing the Ruthton building and moving the elementary to the Tyler building. Total cost was estimated at just under $13.3 million.
"The west wing of the Tyler building would be converted into an elementary wing, like how it was originally constructed to be," Wilson said. "In addition, we'd build onto the north, northeast side of the building. They would replace those with high school classrooms."
Options H and K evolved into Option L, which Wilson said essentially meant abandoning Russell and Ruthton buildings and constructing a new pre-K through 12th-grade building, most likely on the existing Tyler site. The total amount involved, including demolition costs, is $30,435,000.
"The district owns 40 acres to the northeast of the existing building," Wilson said. "We'd be looking at demolishing all of the buildings, except for the gymnasium and the locker rooms in Tyler."
While five schemes were on display at the meeting, only three of the designs were actually on the ballot form.
"The consolidation agreement states that the enrollment needs to be 450 and 470 for a building to be closed," Houck said. "That was something that everybody voted on in April of 2005. While the committee looked at all the plans that you have in front of you, the ones on the ballot are the plans that could actually happen."
When asked, Houck stated that enrollment was currently at 545 for the upcoming year and that it had steadily increased year after year. In response to numerous inquiries regarding the possibility of modifying or amending the consolidation agreement, Houck said he didn't have the answers. He reported that 80 percent of all three of the communities involved had voted for the consolidation plan as it currently stands. There is also no end date, he said.
Since the RTR Middle School building in Russell underwent an extreme makeover a year ago, none of the options included that facility, with the exception of possible elevator installation for the multi-level building.
"As many of you know, we had a tornado go through last year and damage the Russell building," Houck said. "Of everything we had that was damaged, the insurance company has finally settled up with us for the most part."
In regards to past questions on why millions of dollars were put into the middle school building, Houck had an answer.
"Our insurance was very specific with the replacement cost," he said. "If we didn't replace it, we didn't get the money. And, the middle school staff should be commended for the amount of effort that they put in last year to keep the school going when they were in the community center and the church before they got back into the building."
One attendee questioned Houck as to the possibility of putting all of the current students into the Russell and Tyler facilities, but Houck said that wouldn't be feasible.
"They wouldn't all fit," Houck said. "Right now in the high school, there's one empty room. The elementary has one empty room and the middle school has no empty rooms. We're using every inch. And, the elementary numbers are coming up. We'll actually be needing more room."
Ehlers' representatives Carolyn Drude and Jodie Zesbaugh were also on hand to present financial information and answer questions. One thing they quickly pointed out was that, with the exception of one year of debt remaining for Tyler residents, RTR has no school debt.
"That's almost unheard of these days," Zesbaugh said.
Drude began her presentation by saying that Minnesota has one of the most complex tax systems in the country.
"You probably already know that," she said. "And, individual numbers (on the charts) probably don't mean much till you see what they mean to you personally."
For a residential homestead with an estimated market value of $100,000, the estimated tax increase would be $127 (Option F), $143 (G), $81 (I), $111 (J) or $291 (L) for the next 20 years. Tax increases were much higher for agricultural property, based on the current state formula. One attendee asked what would happen to tax amounts if land continues to go up.
"It looks like we're paying four times as much," she said.
Another person in attendance questioned what land rental prices would equate to for increased taxes.
"It seems like farmers are going to be footing more of this bond," he said.