Columbia Heights School Board approves levy referendum

Capital Building Bond Referendum to fund additions and improvements to district buildings

The Columbia Heights School Board approved a resolution for a levy referendum to fund additions and improvements to the district’s buildings at the June 27 meeting.

The Capital Building Bond Referendum would fund additions and improvements to the buildings of District 13 with an estimated total of about $16 million.

In 2014, voters passed a Capital Facilities and Technology Levy, which provides $1 million annually. The levy is now in its second year of the 10-year cycle and is funding about 60 percent capital facility projects and 40 percent technology needs. Some aspects that the levy has been funding include replacing and repairing roofs, windows, plumbing, casework, brick tuck-pointing, repairing parking and driveways, among many others. On the technology side, the levy helps to fund increasing in Internet bandwidth to meet 21st century needs, technology systems for increased security, parent and student portal technology systems and more.

Although the 2014 levy is funding capital building needs and technology updates, the district identified specific additional needs for the Capital Building Bond Referendum to be voted on by residents this Election Day. Much of the Capital Building Bond Referendum will fund necessary updates to North Park Elementary, as well as updates to the CHHS PAC, band space and an addition of a performance space to the gymnasium space.

North Park Elementary

North Park Elementary has several necessary upgrades beyond the current allocated funds. The school is in need of a library, as the current library is considered to be more of a “book room,” as well as additional spaces for science, art and media arts classrooms. There is also a need for an Early Learning Incubator, similar to Highland and Valley View Elementary, for pre-K and kindergarten students. Additional construction includes a cafeteria space with natural light as well as an updated playground.

The funding would also allow North Park to move the administrative office to the front entrance of the building, which would allow for increased security and customer service.

As for grounds maintenance, there is a need to improve the pick-up and drop-off area for buses and parent to allow for safe and easy traffic flow. The playground is currently located nearby the bus pick-up and drop-off zone, and the new system would be designed to keep traffic flow away from students.

CHHS Performing Arts Center

The Columbia Heights High School PAC is not only used for musical performances, it is a space that many community groups use throughout the year. At the June 13 meeting, Principal Dan Wrobleski shared that many of these “upgrades” should rather be considered “updates.” He said some of the updates are even to get the PAC up to code.

“These [updates] aren’t really wants, they are necessities to get us up to date,” Wrobleski said. “The PAC is a very heavily used venue for the  district.”

Beyond musical performances, the PAC is a space used for class meetings held once a week during the school year, convocation at the beginning of the year, parent meetings, guest speakers, hosting middle school band, choir and theater, among others.

With the proposed funding, the PAC will receive a new and revamped LED dimmable lighting system, a lighting board moved from the seating area into a booth, and a new control system that is currently outdated.

The PAC currently has speakers set up on the ground near the stage. There are plans to properly install a permanent speaker system set above the stage, as well as a new sound system and wiring.

The PAC would also receive an update to the presentation system with a proper screen and projector, remodeled sound and light booth, new seating, curtains carpeting and paint. The stage is also in need of a new floor and upgrades to the dressing rooms.

The funding would also allow the PAC to build an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp leading up to the stage, which is currently too steep.

CHHS band space needs

At the rate that the band program has been growing over the past ten years, the CHHS band classroom will not meet the future needs of the expanding program.

Over the years, the district has received several grants, including the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and Columbia Heights Activity Fund, and has invested additional staff and resources to the program.

“These grants and investments have really strengthened the program,” Director of Technology and Security Bryan Hennekens said. “We’re seeing that now at our middle school and our high school with the numbers really growing in band program and the space isn’t meeting those needs.”

The high school band space currently has low ceilings, which cause harm to acoustics, as well as potential safety hazards with the risers.

After determining there isn’t another space that could accommodate for the growing needs, there are plans to update the band space.

The additions include separate practice spaces, instrument repair and cleaning room, sufficient instrument storage, furnishings like chairs, risers and podium, additional natural lighting and improved acoustics.

CHHS gymnasium performance space

The PAC is the only performance space in the district and many school and community groups share the space. As district arts programs are expanding, along with community use, there is a need for an additional performance space.

Supt. Kathy Kelly said routinely, Columbia Academy performs one play on the fall and the high school performs one play in the spring. She said the district doesn’t have the option of expanding these performances with its current facilities.

Compared to other school districts that may put on up to six performances in a given year, Columbia Heights theater students are not given the option to hold more performances.

“When you’re in a performance art, its really about the application of the things that you are learning in your class, just like in a science class,” Kelly said.

The proposal to expand the gymnasium into a performance space includes a “thrust stage” which can retract into the wall to prevent interference with gym space.

Estimated costs

The four project estimated costs total about $15.7 million. North Park Elementary improvements are an estimated $11.5 million, CHHS PAC at $1.5 million, CHHS band space at $2.5 million and the additional performance venue at $150,000.

According to a community survey that was administered in April of this year, the district determined that there was support for the projects that was well above the margin of error. The survey also determined that support was more favorable at about $50 to $60 annual tax impact on residents.

Director of Finance and Operations Bill Holmgren laid out the annual tax impact for residents at the June 13 meeting. For a $125,000 value home the annual tax impact is approximately $36 or $3 a month. For $150,000 value home, the annual tax impact is approximately $46 or $3.83 a month. For a $200,000 value home, the annual tax impact is approximately $68 or

Voters can anticipate voting for the referendum this Election Day on Nov. 7.