Hayfield, Blooming Prairie to vote whether to support new ZED facility in Kasson

Published 9:21 am Saturday, November 2, 2019

Addressing growing pains and the need for adequate learning conditions for their students, Hayfield and Blooming Prairie school boards will be part of a major decision that will be made in the next couple weeks.

The Zumbro Education District (ZED) Board will be casting their votes at 7 p.m. on Nov. 18 to either approve or deny the construction of a new $16.475 million ZED facility with plans to be built in Kasson on about 3.16 acres of land, and will house the alternative learning center (ALC), Transition 2 Success (ages 18-21), and the ZED South Campus-Setting IV.

The ZED office and ZED South Campus buildings will be sold and the profits would go toward offsetting the project cost. Focuses in this project were interchangeable spaces, unique needs areas, adequate learning/meeting spaces, student/staff safety considerations and collaborations.

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Austin Daily Herald attempted to contact ZED Executive Director Patrick Gordon. Calls were not returned by press time.

In 2015-16, the last building proposal that was made went toward the ALC and T2Success for a 42,000 square-foot-building on 12 acres of land at a cost of $13.1 million.

At the time, a 64,000 square-foot-building on 15 acres for $17.22 million was also considered. The ZED members attempted to vote to approve the proposal in 2017, but K-M’s school board decided not to support the proposal, causing the project to be stopped, according to a 2017 Post-Bulletin story.

Since the programs were all housed in multiple buildings owned by Byron Public Schools, this meant that eventually the ZED would need to return the spaces to Byron by June 2022, which needs the space after projecting increasing student enrollment and growing population size to accommodate the growth, according to news reports. Current buildings are also becoming insufficient to help students learn and and provide adequate meeting spaces.

If approved, the project would provide about 61,000 square feet of space that would be able to encompass the ZED programming and address student needs. With the proximity closer to Kasson-Mantorville Public Schools, some of those facilities would be able to be used by ZED to help with programming.

ZED is a seven-district collaborative that includes Kasson-Mantorville Public Schools, Byron Public Schools, Hayfield Community Schools, Stewartville Public Schools, Blooming Prairie Public Schools, Pine Island Public Schools and Triton Public Schools and is similar to the mission of the Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC).

There were about 210 students who are serviced by ZED’s numerous programs from the seven districts. From Blooming Prairie there were 11 students and from Hayfield, there were 26 students.

All seven school district boards must vote yes in order to pass the proposal. Since this project is part of a cooperative agreement among many districts and has a narrow education focus, the only vote needed is from the school boards and a public vote isn’t needed in order to pass it.

The lease levy dollars will fund the project, meaning each member district’s taxpayers will see increases in taxes. Once the school boards make their decisions this fall, ZED hopes to see a design by January 2020 and a completed facility by fall 2021.

What this means for Blooming Prairie, Hayfield

This means that if the project is approved, then there will be some tax impact on homeowners in the member districts. Each member of the ZED is responsible for a certain percentage of the expenses it takes to be able to share various services, including: 50 percent of enrollment, 25 percent of usage and 25 equal share among the seven-member districts.

Tax impact for the member districts would look different. In Blooming Prairie, those who own a home in the $100,000 range would see an impact of $11 per year, and for agricultural, homestead land, the impact is at $0.59 per acre, and for non-homestead property, the effect will be $1.19 per acre. Blooming Prairie’s commercial property that has an estimated value of $500,000 would see a $150 per year increase in taxes.

Chris Staloch, Blooming Prairie superintendent, wrote a letter that was published in the Austin Daily Herald to explain the project and why his district’s school board intended to support the ZED project.

“Blooming Prairie’s partnership with ZED is critical as it supports students in each of these programs,” Staloch wrote. “Blooming Prairie students have benefitted immensely from the myriad of specialized services ZED provides. These services for students include assistive technology, deaf and hard of hearing, vision, behavior specialists, student enrichment activities, career and technical planning, occupational therapy, physical therapy and many more.”

For Hayfield residents, homes with an estimated value of $100,000 would see an increase of $8 per year, a $200,000 house for $20 a year, and each acre of farmland is $0.41 if the land had an estimated average value of $7,500.

Superintendent Gregg Slaathaug saw that the district was looking at the project “very favorably” and that the project was necessary as a means of sharing costs that otherwise would’ve been exponential to districts needing additional services for their students.

“We need a place to house these students,” Slaathaug said. “The amount of money that is saved for our districts for shared services is immeasurable and it’s sharing services for many different areas of learning for kids.”

However, the biggest thing that the project would provide for the students in the ZED collaborative, would be a place where they can learn safely.

“All our students deserve a proper, safe place for their education,” Slaathaug said. “If this fails to pass, then we will have to go back to the drawing board.”