River Ridge continues toward athletic field project

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This architectural drawing shows the proposed layout of the River Ridge athletic facilities improvements. (Photo courtesy of River Ridge School District and Top Notch Construction)


By Ted Pennekamp


The River Ridge School District is proceeding with plans to improve the grounds of its Patch Grove school by adding a football field, practice football field, eight-lane rubberized track, lighting for all fields, and a concession stand/press box/restroom building. Currently, the district’s Bloomington campus provides these amenities, but the intention would be to bring everything together on one site.

During a March 25 special meeting, the school board voted 6-0 to borrow $700,000 toward the project, which they hope will begin by June 1 or as soon as the baseball season ends. The district has the authority to borrow up to $1 million, but the board wanted to have $300,000 available in case of an emergency.

The school district held a press conference on April 8 in an effort to be as transparent as possible and get all the information out to the people.

“We are not trying to hide anything,” said Board President Ken Nies, who noted that the district would like to borrow an additional $1 million which is subject to a 30-day petition period by the public. The public has until April 28 to submit a petition against the borrowing of the $1 million. Such a petition would need the signatures of 20 percent of the registered voters from the last governor’s election.

If there is no petition, the district will borrow the $1 million and the project will move forward. There would then be a referendum in either February or April of 2020 to refinance the project, which would save approximately $500,000.

If there is a petition, Nies said the district will probably proceed with the funds it has available and hold a referendum to borrow what more is needed in either February or April of 2020 in order to complete the $2.2 million project.

“My inclination is that we would do as much of the project as possible,” said Nies.

Nies said the district has $500,000 available now, $165,000 for lighting which was approved in the previous referendum, and $335,000 from insurance premium holidays. The $500,000 plus the $700,000 already borrowed would be enough to get the project started. In addition, the district could decide to use its remaining borrowing authority to borrow the $300,000 that it wanted in case of an emergency.

Nies said it would make much more financial sense to do the entire project as soon as possible and also to pass a refinancing referendum in February or April to save the district another $500,000. The $500,000 savings would come about because the state would provide approximately 30 percent of the funding for payments that are referendum debt versus no money from the state for payments that are within the existing budget.

“A refinancing referendum is the simplest and most financially stable option,” said Nies.

Nies said it is best to begin the project now because it costs the district $60,000 per year to maintain the Bloomington site due to lawn care, utilities, snow plowing and general maintenance. Plus, it would make the site easier to sell if the district didn’t have to continue leasing a large portion of it in order to have football games and track meets. There would also be no travel time for games, track meets and practices.

If the district didn’t have to lease the Bloomington site facilities anymore, Nies said, “We would have it sold before the snow flies.”

For every year that passes without having a track and football field at the Patch Grove school, the cost of constructing such a project goes up about $100,000 per year, said Nies. The cost was $1.5 million in 2015 and it is $2.2 million now.

The payments for the project would be about $91,000 per year over 20 years, which would relate to a 39 cent per $1,000 mil rate increase for school purposes. Nies pointed out that this would still be 40 cents per $1,000 below the 2016-2017 mil rate before the building referendum.

Since the 2016 referendum passed, the River Ridge student enrollment has gone up from 517 to 552. This has resulted in more state aid, which led to a $1.77 decrease in mil rate for the school portion.

Nies and Superintendent Jeff Athey said that all River Ridge students would use the new facilities for physical education, the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, and other fitness training.

It was noted that River Ridge has 200 more students than every other school in its conference, and therefore, a new facility is greatly needed and will be well used. The lights will allow for full length doubleheaders in baseball and softball, and also for JV games without being cancelled due to darkness.

Nies also said there are no plans to cut any programs offered at River Ridge. In fact, the plan is to offer more when the efficiency of truly being at one site is in full effect.

“We are always improving,” said Nies.

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