District 728 considers moving its main office

by Jim Boyle

District 728 school administrators have long dreamed of one building handling all district office  staff and operations, and there have even been talks of moving out of the  current facility to make it a reality.

But that’s as far as the discussion has ever gone, at least until Monday, Nov. 7, when the Elk River Area School Board gave the administration clearance to explore options a little more deeply.

Options range from moving a few blocks to moving out of Elk River.

Among the spaces in Elk River that have piqued the interest of school administrators have been the former First National Bank and a former furniture and lighting store across from The Home Depot.

Another carrot that has been dangling all along is the potential move to Hennepin County. The Elk River Area School District could command nearly an extra $400,000 annually in equity funding if it did. The same would be true if they picked up and moved to Anoka County.

The state provides additional funding to districts that have district offices in the seven-county metro area. The rationale is it costs more to have facilities in the metro than in outstate Minnesota.

Randy Anderson, the school district’s director of business services, says that could pay for a new district office without causing local taxes to  increase.

The reason is the district currently receives $1.510 million in equity revenue. It would receive $1.863 million if the district office was in the metro. Wright County wouldn’t qualify, of course. Hennepin and Anoka County would.

Anderson ran the numbers and showed how a 20-year mortgage could be paid off if the equity revenue stream was expanded to that metro level.

District office functions are currently spread across three buildings (The D.O., Handke and the District 728 Technology Center).

Some school board members expressed reservations about moving the district office out of Elk River.

At least one board member, Jolene Jorgensen, expressed reservations about moving it at all.

She asked administrators to look into options that didn’t require more space but ones that included having people work from home if at all possible.

Sue Farber, the chairwoman of the School Board, concluded board members in general, including herself, supported further exploration.

“There would be political ramifications to moving (out of Elk River),” she said. “Would Zimmerman feel even more left out?”

She also worried about jeopardizing future bonds and levies.

“If we went out and built right now we would be crucified,” Farber said.

Anderson added, however, that moving to the metro would provide a means to pay for building a facility of up to $4 million.

The school district could also get rid of some buildings it has if it found a new home or built a new home.

“There are some tremendous deals out there,” Superintendent Mark Bezek said.