The Princeton School District officially took a step forward in the exploration of a new school to replace South Elementary School.
The board passed a motion on Tuesday, April 9 to begin negotiating a contract for services with St. Paul-based Wold Architects and Engineers that, if approved, will result in the architectural firm performing a formal study of the South building. The study will lay out the state of the building and the school district’s needs as they pertain to the condition of South Elementary School.
A school district committee on Monday, April 8 interviewed three architectural firms and three construction managers. The committee left the Monday meeting with a very clear direction in the firm it wanted to recommend as an architect at Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Julia Espe said. That was Wold Architects and Engineers. The committee was not ready to make a recommendation on a construction manager.
“The good news is, there’s lots of quality folks that want to work for the Princeton School District,” Espe said.
Wold presented a very clear vision of what work needs to be done to prepare the school district for a future referendum, she said.
“They’ll be a tremendous help,” she said.
To be clear, the school district has made no decision regarding whether or not it will seek a referendum in order to fund the building of a new school.
Teaming with Wold will allow the school board to examine in detail its facilities and its future needs so the board can make an informed decision about the future of South – whether its building a new school, renovating the existing building or doing nothing.
School board member Jeremy Miller sat on that Monday, April 8 committee.
“I learned a ton about the process,” Miller said. “I really liked Wold. They are organized and better prepared to understand our district and push us as board members.”
Earlier in Tuesday’s school board meeting, the board heard a 40-minute presentation from Don Lifto of Springsted Survey Services, a company that does market research for school districts planning to go out to referendum. Simply put, Springsted provides referendum planning tools, ranging from voter analysis to scientific random sample surveys, that could help identify whether a referendum might be successful in Princeton.
School board member Chuck Nagle expressed concern that the school district was moving too fast in hiring a firm for its architectural survey. He expressed the opinion that the architect, survey firm and engineer be identified so the district knows if the firms can work together as a team.
“It’s better that we learn how they work together rather than move with expediency,” Nagle said.
Espe disagreed with Nagle’s perception that the district is moving too fast on the building issue.
The board had yet to vote on negotiating with Wold, which made Espe argue that the school district was moving slow for it had taken no action on school facilities to date.
“It’s important that we hire an architect so we can start a facilities study,” Espe said. “It’s what we need to get started on this project.”
“This is not rocket speed,” she added. “It’s a good, clear way to get the project started.”
School board member Craig Johnson agreed.
“This is part of a three-year project that started with the revamping of North Elementary School and looking at the needs of South,” Johnson said. “We have to get something on paper at this point.”
Johnson cautioned that the school board was running into danger of maybe not getting a referendum off to voters by the November election if the board experienced too many more delays.
The board began the process of giving itself a pay raise.
The board heard a proposal under which members would receive an additional $50 per committee meeting in addition to the $350 per month board members currently receive. But the proposal was met with some hesitancy because of the bookkeeping required by each board member to ensure they get paid.
Espe noted that based on the current committee schedule, board members would gain about $125 per month.
The pay increase will go back to the policy committee where a flat $125-per month increase will be discussed.