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Published October 01, 2013, 08:11 PM

Grafton votes on new middle school

Grafton, N.D., residents will vote Thursday on a proposed $19 million new Central Middle School.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

Grafton, N.D., residents will vote Thursday on a proposed $19 million new Central Middle School.

If approved, the new school would be built adjacent to Grafton High School and Century Elementary School, in a single campus. Officials hope it would be ready in time for the 2015-16 school year.

Polls are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Century Elementary.

The proposed school would replace a crowded, aging 1935 building with several building additions, according to Superintendent Jack Maus.

“The timing is right,” he said.

Maus said the existing Central Middle School, which is located near downtown Grafton, is too small to accommodate a growing enrollment, and needs too many repairs to justify the cost.

A study conducted by Johnson Controls estimated it would cost about $7.5 million in renovations to bring the building up to modern standards.

Grafton’s K-12 enrollment has increased by 73 students, or about 9 percent, to 886 since the 2010-11 school year. The enrollment is forecast to continue growing gradually over the next 10 years, according to Applied Insights, a planning firm specializing in demographics.

The proposed bond levy is for $14 million of the $19 million project. The school district would fund the remaining $5 million through existing district funds and through savings gained by operating all facilities under one roof, according to information that has been distributed at public meetings.

If the bond issue is approved, the district would be able to bid the project by spring. Construction could begin in the summer of 2014, with a goal of opening at the start of the 2015-16 school year, according to Maus.

The project architect is Icon Architectural Group, Grand Forks.

The existing building either would be sold, with the new owner spending money to refurbish it, or it would be demolished, he said.

If it is rejected, the school board would have to decide how to proceed, he said.

Tax decrease

Property taxes will decrease in Grafton, even if voters approve the bond issue.

The North Dakota Legislature this year approved a 50-mill school tax levy buydown, which means that the state government, rather than property owners, pays for 50 mills of each school district’s property taxes for 2013.

In addition, the school next summer will retire a construction bond that was used to build Century Elementary in 1999.

According to school district information, the owner of a house valued at $100,000 paid $724.50 in property taxes in 2012. After the state buydown, taxes on that same house would decrease by 29.9 percent, to $513, for 2013.

If voters approve the bond issue, taxes on that house would drop by 8 percent, from $724.50 to $666.

Likewise, property taxes on agricultural land would decrease. Taxes on one quarter-section (160 acres) of farmland valued at $200,000, for instance, were $1,610 in 2012. After the state buydown, those taxes would drop to $1,140 for 2013. If the bond issue is approved, those taxes would be $1,480 in 2013. That’s a reduction of $130, or about 8 percent.

Those estimates assume that property assessments do not increase, however.