Stakeholders in the White Bear Lake Area School District made it clear in community listening sessions: the District’s facilities needed attention. The buildings were an average of 50 years old and could not accommodate the community’s rapid growth and shifting demographics. Most notably, the District of 9,000 students needed a new elementary school and a single high school campus rather than the two existing campuses that separated freshmen and sophomores from juniors and seniors. The list of deferred maintenance projects was extensive, with facilities needing critical safety upgrades and enhancements to accommodate more hands-on, student-centered instruction. A facilities assessment and plan yielded a list of capital needs that exceeded $500 million.
The District engaged Ehlers for Bond Referendum Planning & Support and Debt Issuance services. Ehlers helped the District define which elements of its facilities plan could be funded by Board-approved facilities maintenance bonds versus projects that would require a voter-approved Bond Referendum. The School Finance Team helped structure a plan that combined multiple bond issues for different purposes, providing funds as needed, layered upon each other to help maintain a property tax structure that was palatable to taxpayers and voters. With the scope and financing plan defined, Ehlers outlined the tax implications for voters, helped with ballot language and supported taxpayer education efforts.
In November 2019, 57.4% of voters approved the $326-million building-bond request, knowing it would be accompanied by at least $64 million in Board-approved bonds. Ehlers has since advised the District on multiple debt issuances totaling nearly $400 million, each timed to meet construction funding needs while maintaining the tax structure proposed during the 2019 election. The District has completed its new elementary school, and is in the process of converting existing buildings to accommodate the early childhood, district center and community education needs. The north high school campus has been expanded into a centralized 9 12 campus and safety & security and learning environments have been upgraded in other buildings. An additional $38 million in issuance is still planned.