Handke wing to get badly needed attention

by Jim Boyle

The north wing of the Handke Family Center has taken on water and fallen into the state of “disarray.”

The Elk River Area School Board reviewed options to fix the situation at its work session Monday night, and has given Superintendent Mark Bezek direction to begin the planning process for a renovation project.

Water has damaged many parts of Handke, including this exterior wall.

“It’s by far our worst space in the district …,” said Tom Baranick, the district’s manager of facilities. “And … we’re putting kids in there. Would we allow this anywhere else in the district?”

Handke is the district’s original high school and was built 1930. The north wing, added in 1951, houses the district’s Early Childhood and Family Education program, Early Childhood Screening programs and the Reach-Up Head Start classroom.

The District 728 School Board received a presentation on the deteriorating condition of the wing, which included renovation or replacement options.

Two replacement options, one for a one-story and another for a two-story facility, could cost up to $4 million; however, to build either the district would have to ask voters for funding through a bond question.

The School Board favored a third option, which calls for renovating the wing at a projected cost of approximately $3 million, which could be funded through Alternative Facilities levy funds.

Bezek had asked about the idea of a bond referendum, knowing the fondness members of the community have for Handke. He suggested it could be part of a bigger bonding project.

“I’m not opposed to the alternative facilities approach,” Bezek said. “I just think there are some options that might be palatable.”

Board members expressed concern about the potential for further delays to the badly needed improvements and are still leery about asking the public for a bond referendum given the operational needs of the school district.

“You have to put food on the table first,” said Randy Anderson, the executive director for Business Services.

Representatives from the district’s business, facilities and Community Education departments and a contracted architectural firm told the School Board the structure must be fixed.  Issues such as electrical, plumbing, walls, floors, windows and a multitude  of infrastructure problems are no longer fixable by “band-aid” approaches.

With the School Board’s desire to move forward with a renovation, the next steps involve finalizing the scope and budget of the project and submitting a specific plan to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval. It needs to be in the hands of the state by July 1.

The tentative plan calls for the renovation to take place during summer 2013.

One goal is to create a secure entry back near the facilities main parking area.

A Handke Center parking lot repaving project that was scheduled to take place this summer most likely will be pushed ahead to coincide with the north wing renovation.

Minnesota state law authorizes school boards to approve levies for these types of projects.