With schools growing more crowded each year and mere weeks left on a land purchase agreement, Delano School District residents will head back to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of a new elementary school.
The west suburban district's two bond questions -- one for $980,000 to buy land for the school and the other for $27 million to build it and complete other renovations -- are the same two proposals voters considered last fall. In November, residents approved $700,000 a year to operate a new grade 4-6 school, but they voted down funding to build it or buy the land.
"This is a good time to get this done in terms of the construction costs," said Delano Superintendent John Sweet. "We're hearing examples about good bids" in other places.
Sweet said the district's land purchase agreement expires on April 30. He said the threat of losing the land is real. "[They've] kept it off the market for us for quite a while," he said. "It's definitely a concern."
Further delay could also add more than $800,000, or about 3 percent, to construction costs each year, according to St. Louis Park-based Architects Rego and Youngquist Inc.
If voters approve the requests, the owner of a $272,500 home would pay $15 more a year for the land acquisition and $158 more a year for the construction. Voters must approve the first question on the land acquisition for the construction bond to also pass. They were lumped into one question last fall.
Enrollment at Delano's three schools, which now totals 2,248 students, has increased by almost 400 students since 2002. All three of the district's schools are already at or above capacity, Sweet said.
And school officials expect to add almost 300 students to the attendance rolls by 2012, even though construction along Hwy. 12 could slow growth.
Three places to vote
In recent weeks, school officials have dealt with confusion about polling place locations. The district plans to use three sites.
The neighboring Orono School District's decision to use one central polling place for its Feb. 12 referendum might be a factor in the confusion. A Hennepin County district judge dismissed a lawsuit against Orono last month that alleged its successful $39 million bond referendum wasn't conducted properly. The lawsuit contended that it should have been conducted by mail rather than at a single polling place at district headquarters.
Delano decided last winter against using such a central polling place. "We left [the polling places] as is because we didn't want there to be any confusion," Sweet said.
Unlike their neighbors, Delano School District residents haven't raised a big fuss about the timing of the referendum.
There have been questions, however, about why voters sent such mixed signals last fall when they voted for the operating levy and against the bond questions.
And some residents have raised concerns about the worsening economy.
Lisa Seguin, co-chairwoman of Delano Vote Yes!, said there's never a right time to raise taxes, and Delano could end up wasting money on temporary solutions if the funding request fails.
"People are still moving here, and it's not going to stop anytime soon," Seguin said. "If we wait any longer, the crowding is only going to get worse."
Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395