BLOOMING PRAIRIE — The Blooming Prairie Public School Board will vote Nov. 18 on whether or not to approve a new education facility in nearby Kasson, which it would share with the six other members of the Zumbro Education District.
ZED offers alternative learning and other support services for a number of smaller entities that may have a hard time providing these additional initiatives on their own.
The proposed $16.5 million building would combine ZED’s program facilities and district office into one central space, which would go in on roughly three acres adjacent to Kasson-Mantorville High School — a 30-minute drive northeast of Blooming Prairie, along Highway 14.
According to Blooming Prairie Superintendent Chris Staloch, the project has been in the works for a while.
“We’ve been talking about a ZED building project for many, many years and we have been to a vote before where some of the other districts didn’t feel the timing was right,” he explained. “We didn’t get the chance to vote as a Blooming Prairie School District because if one district votes against it, it won’t go.”
Staloch added that he felt other member districts may now be ready to approve the facility this time around. In addition to Blooming Prairie — which joined ZED in 1993 — participants include the Byron, Hayfield, Kasson-Mantorville, Pine Island, Stewartville and Triton school districts.
According to ZED Executive Director Patrick Gordon, the measure needs the unanimous support of all members to pass, although member school boards only need a simple majority approval to count as a “yes” vote for the district.
If the building is approved, members’ shares of the cost will be determined by a formula that is 50% enrollment, 25% utilization and 25% equal share. For Blooming Prairie residents who own a $100,000 home, Staloch said that the tax increase would be around $11 a year for the 20-year duration of ZED’s building bond.
In a letter to the Oct. 31 edition of the Owatonna People’s Press, Staloch added that, “Agricultural, homestead land is impacted at $0.59 per acre, and for non-homestead property, the effect will be $1.19 per acre. Blooming Prairie’s commercial property with an estimated value of $500,000 would see a $150 per year increase in taxes.”
Gordon called the current project estimate the “ceiling.”
“That’s the threshold where if anything happened we would just [make changes] within the project itself,” he explained. “Certain things would have to either be dropped or moved around to get it to be more cost-efficient.”
In an interview, Staloch said he believed the facility is worth the price tag, adding that the shared cost is far more manageable than if Blooming Prairie was going to attempt to add more space on its own.
“We have students with a lot of different needs,” he noted. “Extra support is sometimes challenging to provide in a small school and in the physical spaces that we have. Some of the programs that ZED has require a great deal of space, and we just don’t necessarily have the space currently to provide those programs.”
According to Gordon, the new building would house shared Alternative Learning Center, South Campus and Transition 2 Success programs — which typically enroll 10 to 15 Blooming Prairie students — in addition to its district office.
ZED’s South Campus site currently serves students whose individual needs can’t be met in a traditional school setting, including students from member districts who require off-site special education services.
Transition 2 Success was created for students who have completed high school on an individual education plan and need additional support in job training, independent living and other facets of adult life before setting out on their own.
“We have our own on-site schools and programs and our enrollment is made up of the member districts,” Gordon explained, of the three main education initiatives provided by ZED. “Currently, on campus here at ZED, we have a district main office. Then, one setting for program is in another building across the highway and our Alternative Learning Center and transition programs are in a leased space through Byron Public Schools.”
With Byron’s growing enrollment, Gordon estimated that the member district would probably need these rented spaces back within the next couple of years.
Besides having to leave their leased spaces in the near future, Gordon said the move was a way to update to a more modern and flexible space that can accommodate for growing enrollment in all of ZED’s member districts.
He noted that the new facility will focus on interchangeable areas that could be used for all three programs as needed and as attendance in each fluctuates. Combining them into one building is the primary factor that would allow ZED to do this, according to Gordon.
“Based on our on-site programs, we’ve dug in to look at a lot of data and project for the future, with all our districts growing in enrollment,” he said. If the proposal passes, he added that ZED would then likely sell the two buildings it currently owns.
Gordon added that the location of the proposed joint complex was selected in large part because of its proximity to Highway 14, a convenient transportation corridor for most of ZED’s members. He noted that it was also important to his districts that the new building be close to one of the members’ facilities, and added that Kasson-Mantorville helped donate some adjacent land for a parking lot.
ZED closed on a land sale for the primary, three-acre site in July, and is set to begin construction this spring if the measure is approved by all of its members. According to Gordon, Kasson-Mantorville decided in favor of the project earlier this month, while all other districts tentatively plan to vote in the coming weeks.
The Blooming Prairie School Board will make its decision Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. The board will meet in room 210 at Blooming Prairie High School, 202 Fourth Ave. NW.