School plans repair work

FAIRMONT – It has been about two years since Fairmont Area Schools staff began to notice their buildings literally crumbling around them in places.

The brick-and-mortar facilities are in need of tuckpointing repairs, and the school board has determined the project can no longer be delayed.

Superintendent Joe Brown said Tuesday he has seen rain and snow entering the elementary school around hallway windows in the older section of the building, and the high school isn’t far behind.

“If water gets in, if mold happens, you may not be able to use [the buildings] until it is fixed,” Brown said.

The district recently obtained an estimate for repairing the problem: $750,000.

Business manager Sue Nelson has found one-time money in two district accounts.

In the early 1970s, when the high school was built, a spray-on fireproofing manufactured by WR Grace was used. A lawsuit provided money to remove the asbestos, with enough left over to complete other asbestos-related abatement projects. District auditors recommended transferring funds remaining in that account into the general fund. The school board has approved moving the $327,750 into an assigned fund to be used for tuckpointing repairs.

Another fund was set aside many years ago, under the supervision of auditors and then-superintendent Butch Hanson, with the expectation that the district owed money to the Minnesota Department of Education. Many years have passed, and auditors today believe it would be safe to use the money. The board approved moving those dollars – $213,663 – into the fund for tuckpointing repairs. That gives the district $541,414 for the repairs.

The funds put aside for the project do not total the estimate, a fact not lost on Brown.

“The ballpark estimate is more than we are [setting aside],” he said, noting bid prices for the work could come in lower than anticipated, the district could break the project up into stages, or money could be used from other funds.

The school board expects to go out for bids and begin work on the buildings next summer.

Board members recalled going to taxpayers for deferred maintenance in past years, and do want a repeat of that experience.

“Just like any asset, if you don’t take care of it, it will cost you more later,” Nelson said. “The greatest part of this is that it will not affect the taxpayer.”