District seeks public supportWashington schools seek $750,000 bond referendum for boiler
The Washington School District needs a win and the Washington School Board hopes that a $750,000 bond referendum to replace the boiler in the former junior high wing of Washington High School will be that win.
During its regular meeting Wednesday, the board voted 6-1 to seek a special June 25 election on the bond issuance, contingent on an inspection to ensure the viability of existing heating system in the building. The decision came after discussion of options to replace the failing boiler now in the building. While other options, such as a geothermal system, were discussed, the board decided on the boiler system. Washington Schools Superintendent Mike Jorgensen said he believed the issue was the one that had the greatest chance of getting the 60 percent of the vote needed to be approved. If passed, the tax increase would be about 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation.
“The district needs a win,” Jorgensen said. “We haven’t had a win in 50 years. It has been a long losing streak.”
Board member Ericka Raber cast the vote against the issue, saying later she agreed with the decision to move forward, but wished that the district could have explored the geothermal option more.
During a presentation of options from construction manager Dan Culp, the board learned that the initial cost of a new boiler was $750,000 while the initial cost to update the high school’s geothermal system to serve the additional space would be about $2.2 million. He also said that even if the boiler were replaced, the circulation system would still be the same aging circulation system that was installed with the building. He said the cost to replace both the boiler and the circulation system would be about the same as the geothermal system.
“That would be a lot of piping,” Culp said, of the possibility of replacing the heating system. “It is going to add up really fast.”
Culp also said a geothermal system would provide more energy savings than a boiler and that the geothermal system would provide both heating and cooling, rather than just the heating provided by the boiler. Classrooms in the wing use window-mounted air conditioners for cooling.
Board president Eric Turner said he believed the geothermal system would be the better option, but the district doesn’t have the money to afford it without a bond vote. He also said that installing a new boiler wouldn’t be cost-effective if the district had to replace the entire heating system in a few years.
The geothermal field drilled for the new high school had enough capacity to service the junior high wing, Culp said. Jorgensen said that the additional capacity is intended for a future auditorium the district hopes to build onto the building.
Jorgensen said that he recommended the new boiler, saying it was as “simple and scaled down” of a plan as it could get.
During the last inspection of the existing boiler, the district learned it would not pass another inspection and had to be replaced. Jorgensen said that the district has three pending projects, of which replacing the boiler is one. He hoped it could wait a few years and the district could have a bond referendum for all three projects at once. The other two are the construction of a multipurpose room at the middle school and the renovation of Lincoln Elementary. He said that he hoped, with the other projects coming up, to be conservative with this one.
“I think $750,000 will be a slam dunk,” he said. “$2.2 million worries me.”
Board member Stephanie Ellingson made the motion to pursue the vote pending favorable results of the inspection, saying the district “doesn’t have the flexibility to have a negative outcome.” Business manager Jeff Dieleman said that he would arrange the inspection and begin circulating petitions for the vote. The petitions have to be at the Washington County Auditor’s office by May 10 for the special election. The district also has a regular election that will be held Sept. 10.