After receiving input from community members regarding the failed $115 million bond referendum for a new Dickinson High School, the Dickinson Public School Board approved a new bond request of $89 million.
Following the vote against the referendum last May, Dickinson Public Schools conducted a survey for which it received 1,000 responses from community members.
“After thorough review of the appreciated responses, two primary themes were revealed,” said Superintendent Shon Hocker. “The most predominant theme centered around trimming the costs associated with the project. In other words, a less expensive approach. Second, the community’s desire for the district to seek corporate sponsorship.”
Given the feedback, the district looked for ways to cut the cost of the bond.
“We really did everything we could to get that bond referendum as low as we possibly could,” Seaks said.
To reduce the cost to taxpayers, the district will hold off on building a new elementary school. The new bond will not include funding for an elementary school, as the last referendum had; rather, it will solely address the need for a new high school project, which brings the cost of the new referendum down to $108 million.
The funding for the elementary school project could instead come from leveraging funds given to Dickinson for its status as a HUB city. Hocker said they receive about $2 million every biennium, but that money wasn't a guarantee in the past, so the district could not use the funding to get a loan. That changed with Operation Prairie Dog.
“As a result of recent legislative action primarily driven by our local legislators including Senator Wardner, Operation Prairie Dog will provide quarantined funding for HUB cities and schools,” Hocker said. “This option was not available to us during the May 7th referendum. This guaranteed funding can now be leveraged to obtain financing that will assist in meeting our financial needs to address building a new elementary school.”
The district currently has $10 million in its building fund levy that it will use to help finance the high school, which would bring the cost down to $98 million.
“When we went for the $115 million referendum ... the district had $10 million that we were going to put towards an elementary school, but that $10 million in this plan is going towards this high school,” Seaks said.
Additionally, Hocker said the district hopes to raise $2 million from the community, bringing the cost down to $96 million. To reach $89 million, the district would have to find an additional $7 million in funding.
"That would come from taking some of that building fund levy that I just mentioned that we levy every year ...When we did the middle school, we decided to use $400,000 dollars of that annual payment to pay down some of the bond expenses of the middle school, so we would do the same thing — only $500,000 instead of $400 that which generate another $7 million that we could reduce the bond," Hocker said.
Lastly, the district will leave the Career and Technical Education building unfinished, waiting for donations from businesses and community members. Until it secures the funding, students will continue to use the old CTE building.
"Basically, we would build the pieces that have to be there have to do with the structural components of the whole building, so it would basically be like shelled-in. There would be a roof on it so it wouldn't rain inside, but nothing else would be finished (but) ... we'll do whatever the code requires us to do ... There'll be no classrooms, no teacher offices, no equipment, nothing like that in there to start with," Hocker said.
He estimates that it will take two years to build the new school and said the goal would be to obtain the donations needed to complete the CTE Center in that time.
The district will also seek input from local businesses.
“What you would do then is try to raise some money in the corporate sector to help finish that CTE, but also visit with them collaboratively to get input as well so you’re being careful with what you’re doing and making sure that what you do in that CTE area is exactly what you want and exactly what the businesses want,” Seaks said.
The new referendum will go to a vote Tuesday, September 10. Polls will be open at Dickinson High School and the Dunn County Courthouse.
Seaks feels encouraged.
"We are grateful for all the feedback we received and are proposing a strong plan that will address our needs with a bond that is significantly less. I hope our next vote passes so we can get started soon for the sake of our district and our community," he said.
A previous version of this article stated that the referendum will go to a vote September 20. That has been corrected to September 10.