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Remodel, build, grow: $380 million invested in school buildings across Rochester area over five years

From Byron to Plainview-Elgin-Millville, area school districts have been asking voters to green-light some substantial upgrades.

Century High School
Progress is seen on the construction of an indoor pool on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — It's not the end of the line in the construction process for Rochester Public Schools, but the district is hitting a major milestone.

This fall will mark the first time all four of the new schools that voters approved the funding for in 2019 will be open and in use. The $180 million in spending paved the way for the new Dakota Middle School, the new Overland Elementary, as well as the demolition and reconstruction of Longfellow Elementary and Bishop Elementary.

In addition to the new buildings, the funding is also providing new secure entrances at the district's schools, a new pool at Century High School, repairs to the Mayo High School pool, as well as the filling-in of the swimming pools at the three middle schools.

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But Rochester isn't the only school district that has been taking on major projects in the last few years. Nor are all of Rochester's projects associated with the 2019 referendum completed. From Byron to Plainview-Elgin-Millville, area school districts have been asking voters to green-light some substantial upgrades.

Over the last five years, area schools have collectively spent more than $380 million for construction and renovation projects.

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Rochester Public Schools

John Marshall High School
New siding goes up on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at John Marshall High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Aside from the construction of the four new schools, there's been plenty of projects underway in Rochester. This summer, construction crews were knee deep in projects at two of the three public high schools. At Century, crews are in the process of adding an addition onto the existing building for the school's new swimming pool.

The total size of the new pool addition is 24,000 square feet. The dimensions of the pool itself are 119 feet by 64 feet, or just over 7,600 square feet.

According to construction superintendent Adam Holvig, the eight-lane pool will be able to hold 450,000 gallons, nearly 10 times the capacity of the corn water tower in southeast Rochester.

"They're obviously going to regulate us when we go to fill it," Holvig said. "We have to do it off peak hours, and then they kind of regulate how much water we can take at a time."

RPS Director of Operations Scott Sherden gave an overview of the projects associated with the referendum at an August school board meeting.

He said they have to have enough pools available for student use. Because of that, they can't start renovating the Mayo High School pool until the Century pool is finished. And they won't start filling in the middle school pools until the Mayo pool is finished.

"Even though the referendum's three years old, we're still probably two to three years out before everything's complete," Sherden said.

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Then, there's the the non-pool work underway.

Unlike the Century pool addition, renovations at John Marshall High School are not associated with the 2019 referendum.

That doesn't mean it isn't expensive. The total price tag for the overhaul is $45 million, more than the cost to build the brand new Overland Elementary.

The renovation includes the overhaul of the building's HVAC system, changing the lighting throughout the building, installing new windows as well as adding new exterior siding.

"It's going to look like a brand new building," site superintendent Dan Kruger said about the outside of the building.

Timeline:

  • November 2019: Rochester School District voters approve $180.9 million for various projects.
  • June 2020: construction begins on Overland Elementary. The school first housed students during the 2021-22 school year during the construction of the new Bishop Elementary.
  • October 2020: construction begins on Dakota Middle School.
  • April 2021: construction begins on new Longfellow Elementary.
  • June 2021: Demolition begins on former Bishop Elementary building.
  • June 2021: Construction begins on new Bishop Elementary.
  • August 2021, construction begins on the Century High School swimming pool.
  • September 2022: Demolition expected to begin on former Longfellow Elementary building; the city plans to transform the property into a park.

Byron Public Schools

Byron HS Ground Breaking
Members of the school board and the superintendent officially break ground on a multi part project at Byron High School in Byron on Thursay, Aug. 4, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

It took three attempts in less than two years for Byron Public Schools to get voters on board with its idea for upgrades and expansion around the school district. In the fall of 2021, they finally found the sweet spot on a $44.5 million bond.

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The project includes a number of additions to the high school, including an auditorium, new classrooms and new sports complexes.

The high school itself is less than 20 years old. However, when voters approved its construction, they didn't approve enough money to include several features that a high school normally would have, such as the auditorium. That, along with the district's growing population, prompted the need for new construction.

In addition to the academic portion, the construction will renovate the District and Community Services building. Afterward, the DACS building will serve as a community center space as well.

This summer, the district held a groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited construction.

"Boys and girls soccer, boys and girls track and field, baseball, softball and football at all levels will benefit from having new state-of-the-art facilities at our high school," Byron football coach Ben Halder said at the groundbreaking.

Timeline:

  • May 2020: Byron voters rejected a $58 million request from the school district.
  • May 2021: Byron voters rejected a $41.48 million proposal from the school district.
  • November 2021: Byron voters approve a $44.5 million proposal from the school district.
  • 2022: Byron Public Schools hosts a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction projects underway.

Pine Island Public Schools

Pine Island Early Learning Center
Crews work at the construction site of the Pine Island Early Learning Center on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Pine Island Public Schools is in the process of constructing a new building right across the street from its 5-12 building. The new construction will house the school district's early learning program, while also acting as a space for community education.

The cost of the project is $6.4 million. The district is paying for the project with a lease levy, meaning property owners will see the impact on their taxes.

The building will be two stories and encompass 2,100 square feet. Among other features, it will include an inside playground.

The district held a ground breaking ceremony for the school this past April. At that time, school leaders said the vision for the project had been over a decade in the making.


Zumbro Education District

Zumbro Education District
The new Zumbro Education District in Kasson on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

This fall will mark the first time the Zumbro Education District is able to move into a home of its own. The district is finishing up the details of a new $16.47 million facility right next to Kasson-Mantorville High School. The building totals 61,031 square feet.

ZED is not a traditional school. Rather, it provides various services to nearby school districts that don't offer those on their own, such as those for the visually impaired or hard of hearing.

Previously, ZED was spread out over three different buildings that were not suited for the unique needs of its student population.

Rather than having to convince voters to fund the construction of the new facility, the education district had to get all of the member districts to sign off on the project. Those member districts include Blooming Prairie, Byron, Hayfield, Kasson-Mantorville, Stewartville and Triton. Until recently, Pine Island was a member district as well.


Zumbrota-Mazeppa Public Schools

Zumbrota-Mazeppa Primary School
Zumbrota-Mazeppa Primary School on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Zumbrota.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Like Rochester, voters approved a $38.58 million spending budget for Zumbrota-Mazeppa Public Schools in the fall of 2019.

The renovation is now within weeks of "substantial completion," according to Superintendent Mike Harvey. The renovation included additions for career and technical education and fine arts, as well as new classrooms.

"We fully renovated most of our buildings," Harvey said. "We added on to our primary school and renovated it. We added on to the elementary school and renovated it. And we added on to the high school and made renovations as well. We were very crowded, so we were looking for space."


St. Charles Public Schools

St. Charles High School
St. Charles High School on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Voters of the St. Charles School District also green-lit a large spending budget during its 2019 referendum.

The vote-approved levy provided $18 million in funding. The school district used other funding sources to come up with another $4.6 million, for a total of $23.19 million that it used for various projects.

Some of the larger projects included the addition of a new auxiliary gym, fitness center, training room and changing rooms; a new science wing; the addition of a kitchen and cafeteria at the elementary school; and the remodeling of multiple classrooms and other learning spaces.


Plainview-Elgin-Millville Public Schools

Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School
Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Plainview.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

In 2018, voters approved $15.5 million for projects in the Plainview-Elgin-Millville School District.

A lot of the funding went to repairs and maintenance, such as updated HVAC systems, lighting, and upgraded bathrooms.

It also went to some more visible changes: the addition of an ADA-complient elevator, upgraded science and career and technical education classrooms, and additions onto three different buildings to provide more secure entrances and vestibules.


Dover-Eyota & Stewartville

IMG_8436.JPG
If approved by voters, the referendum for Dover-Eyota Public Schools would pay for numerous upgrades and repairs, including a more secure entrance at the middle school and high school.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin

Not all the funding approved for school districts over the last five years has been for large, splashy projects.

During the 2022 primary, Dover-Eyota voters approved a spending budget of $21.73 million. Although the funding will pay for some new and renovated spaces, it also will pay for a lot of routine maintenance projects that have accumulated over the years.

“It’s not a lot of frivolous stuff. It’s kind of the stuff you’d do if you were living in a 25-year-old house,” Dover-Eyota Superintendent Jeremy Frie said at the time.

Nor have all the school districts succeeded in securing funding. This past July, voters turned down a request by Stewartville Public Schools for $38.5 million that would have funded various projects around the school district.

Considering school district officials are sure something needs to be done, Stewartville voters could see another referendum in the near future. That being said, as in the case of Byron, it could take a few tries to get there.

"The current challenges of our school facilities are not going away and will need to be solved," said a statement from the district after voters declined the proposal in the primary election. "We will continue to engage families, students, staff, and community members into the process to determine the best solutions and the next steps for the school district."

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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