Elk River, school district discuss possible sharing of services
by Joni Astrup
School district and Elk River city officials are exploring the possibility of sharing some services.
The Elk River Area School Board and the Elk River City Council discussed some options during a joint meeting Monday, Oct. 10 at Elk River City Hall.
Ideas ran the gamut from possible in-house “Minute Clinic”-type facilities for employees to some sharing of building and grounds work, human resources and communications.
Comments from the five-member City Council and seven-member School Board were mostly supportive of exploring the options.
“In today’s world it’s imperative that boards like us do this. I think this is what the taxpayers expect of us,” Mayor John Dietz said.
School Board Chair Sue Farber said constituents want elected officials to be innovative.
“They want us to find ways to save them money. No one wants their taxes to go up,” she said.
Superintendent Mark Bezek said he will have his staff work with the city staff.
“These conversations will happen and we’ll see where they go,” Bezek said.
On-site shared health clinics discussed
A potential partnership between the city and school district on employee health clinics was just one of the ideas kicked around.
Bezek said the school district spends $17 million a year on health insurance for more than 2,000 employees, and the cost is going up about 11 percent a year.
He told the City Council that one idea which has come up is on-site clinics. The clinics would be free to employees and designed to be used for minor health issues rather than going to a regular clinic and having an insurance claim. The goal would be to decrease health insurance rates.
School Board Member Jolene Jorgenson, an Anoka County employee, said Anoka County has a clinic for employees.
Bezek said there also is an on-site clinic in the new Minneapolis School District offices.
City explores possible ice arena renovation
The two groups also discussed the possible renovation of the Elk River Ice Arena. The facility is owned by the city and located at 1000 School St., next door to Elk River High School.
There are two sheets of ice in the facility. The older part of the arena is the “Barn,” which was built in 1971. The newer part has an Olympic-sized sheet of ice that was built in 1997.
The debt on the Olympic sheet of ice will be paid off in 2013, and the city is considering whether to renovate the “Barn” or demolish it and build a new sheet of ice 200-by-85-feet in size.
Leaving just the Olympic rink, demolishing the rest and building new would cost an estimated $8.1 million, according to Ice Arena Manager Rich Czech. The payments would be an estimated $650,000 a year over 20 years, compared to the $200,000 a year the city is paying now to retire the debt on the Olympic sheet of ice.
User groups — youth hockey, figure skating club, boys and girls booster clubs and the school district — have been approached to see if they could contribute to the project.
Currently, the school district pays the going rate of $180 an hour for ice time. The school district also pays for ice time at the arena in Rogers, but didn’t contribute any money to that arena project. Contributing money to a project in one community creates an equity issue for the other communities and schools in the district, school officials said.
Dietz said he understands the school district’s perspective, but said the city is providing a valuable service. The school district doesn’t have to have an ice arena of its own, and the high school gets prime hours for its hockey practices and games and pays the same rent as a youth hockey team.
“We are providing a tremendous service to the high school athletic program,” Dietz said.
He said there’s no way the city could proceed with an $8 million ice arena project on its own, which is why it is talking to the users of it.
Bezek said he would put it on a school board work session to discuss it in more detail.
The two groups also discussed other topics including the city’s branding effort, the school district’s strategic planning process and solving irrigation issues at the Oak Knoll athletic fields in Elk River.