When Jordan voters passed the first referendum question in early March by a two-to-one margin, Superintendent Matt Helgerson wasn't surprised.
He felt that he and district officials had done a good job explaining to residents why a $29.35 million complete remodel of the 1960s-era middle school was necessary, he said.
But Helgerson wasn't as confident voters would approve the second measure, a $5.25 million community recreation center to be added on to the updated school.
They did, and now he and district officials are hoping the center will bring both economic and health benefits to the town of 5,700, as well as a shared community space.
"It's obvious that the community feels that the community center feature is important and is something that is needed," said Ed Shukle, city administrator.
While the projects won't come cheap — together they will cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $296 annually in taxes — the district and community are banking on the center being a good long-term investment and "a revenue generator for local businesses and the local economy," Helgerson said.
Because the center will have three new gym stalls and its own entrance, Jordan will be a prime site to host athletic tournaments, business showcases or community events. Tournaments in particular bring in thousands of dollars and generate business for local restaurants and stores, Helgerson said.
The community center could also entice people working in nearby Shakopee to consider living in Jordan. There are "real businesses coming into Shakopee, and we believe people will see Jordan as an attractive option and place to live," Helgerson said.
And there are obvious health benefits to having a walking track, gyms with a rubberized multipurpose floor, and a weight and fitness room, Helgerson said.
Seniors will be able to use the walking track for free, and membership rates will be reasonable for all, he said.
The center will "offer a lot of different opportunities that our youth have missed out on," said City Council member Tanya Velishek.
Middle school upgrades
Both projects will likely be complete in December 2015, with construction on each to begin in September 2014 with the pouring of footings. School will start a week early next year and spring break will be eliminated so school can end in late May, giving the district a longer construction season, Helgerson said.
The new school will use the old building's shell, but the rest will be completely updated, including a 15,000 square-foot academic addition with larger classrooms and flexible learning spaces. The school enrolls 540 students.
From an academic and mechanical standpoint, the old school "isn't functioning properly anymore," Helgerson said.
Lance Chambers, principal of Jordan Middle School, said that in addition to new spaces, like a commons area and cafeteria at the center of the building, he's excited about the basics — functioning heating and cooling systems, roofs that don't leak and better security throughout. "The space we create for our students will be something that will help our students learn in a 21st century school," said Chambers.
Will the city pitch in?
The center will be run by community education, but an open question is whether the city will chip in to pay for some of its maintenance and staffing costs, Helgerson said.
Currently, the city and district have a joint powers agreement related to community education. In the coming months, the two groups will decide whether to re-evaluate that agreement and divvy up the center's costs.
Earlier this year, Helgerson gave a "shot in the dark" estimate that operational costs might total $114,000 annually, and it was suggested the city could pay half.
Some City Council members, such as Jeremy Goebel and Velishek, who is on the joint powers board, believe the city should contribute. "It's a win for the community," she said.
Goebel, who describes himself as conservative, said it makes sense for the city to be involved in running the center because "our expertise is in managing these sorts of things."
But City Council member Thom Boncher said he's heard from residents who are unhappy, even angry, about the community center being built because they didn't vote for it. Now, "residents are being asked to accept being taxed twice for the coming recreation center — once as school district residents and again as city residents."
Boncher also wondered why the city would want to pay to maintain facilities it doesn't own.
"The devil is in the details in terms of how the actual community center feature plays out and whether the city will be involved in it," Shukle said.