Photo by Chad Koenen
The Henning School Board approved moving forward with several building projects, including replacing the playground equipment at the school.

By Chad Koenen


The Henning School District will move forward with a number of building and indoor air quality projects next summer. The move comes after the school district voters turned down school building referendums, both last November and in May, that would have addressed a number of the items on the recently approved list of projects.

During its regularly scheduled meeting last Tuesday night, which followed a work session that was set up with representatives from ICS and Ehlers, the school board approved approximately $8 million in projects for the school district.

Photo by Chad Koenen
The Henning School Board took one step closer to creating a new parking lot on a lot near the bus garage. As part of the project an old storage shed will be torn down.

The projects include a $6.7 million indoor air quality project that will replace the HVAC system in the school to provide temperature control, ventilation, energy efficiency and dehumidification. 

By replacing the HVAC system the hope is to avoid temperature swings and humidity in the building that has been a commonplace in recent years. The end result has even resulted in the school district moving fall athletic events to different schools, due to condensation in the building that resulted in unsafe playing conditions in the gym, while also having big temperature swings from one classroom to the next. 

The school board also approved moving forward with constructing a new parking lot near the bus garages on Marshall Ave. The new parking lot will be funded through a process known as abatement, which will allow the school district to levy taxpayers to construct, or maintain, parking lots. The parking lot project will tear down an aging storage shed near the bus garages and then construct a new parking lot in its place.

The total number of parking stalls that will be able to fit on the lot was not known at the time of the meeting, but school board chair Reed Reinbold said the new parking lot will go a long way to addressing a parking crunch at the school during events and activities. For example, Reinbold said there are times that people need to park down by the city park and the bank and walk to the school.

The cost for the parking lot project is estimated at just under $520,000. 

The tax impact for a residential property owner in the school district with a property value of $150,00 will see an increase of $16 per month in their taxes for the HVAC project, while the parking lot abatement will cost an additional $1 per month. 

Other projects approved last week

Several years ago Henning School District voters approved a technology and building project plan that included dedicating money to replace the school roof. Lori Christianson, of ICS, said the money said aside as part of that levy will no longer cover the entire cost of replacing the last parts of the roof.

“We know with inflation and where the economy went…you wouldn’t be able to just use those dollars,” she said. 

In addition to the HVAC, parking lot and roof projects, the school board moved forward with replacing the windows in the elementary wing of the school. The decision to replace the windows will essentially help to make the school more energy efficient, while also providing additional natural light in the classrooms. Moving forward with the project now will assist engineers as part of the HVAC project so they can plan for the new windows, as opposed to planning the HVAC system for the old windows in the elementary wing of the school. 

“There are projects that just make sense to do now because of the HVAC project,” said Henning School Superintendent Melissa Sparks.

The school board also approved a plan to replace the fire alarm system in the school, replacing the special education bathroom and playground equipment. In order to pay for the projects the school district will dip into its reserve funds for capital outlay projects, as well as issue a new levy and abatement on taxpayers. It will also utilize ESSERS III funding that is related to the COVID-19 pandemic to fund a portion of the HVAC project, as well as replace the playground equipment. 

“What the school has been doing over the past couple of years is you have been setting money aside for some of the purposes for what the school needs. Whether that be a levy, transposition, technology or setting money aside for your room and construction projects,” said Rudy Martinez, who has assisted the school district with its finances since July.

While the school district maintains just a 15 percent unassigned fund balance, which is below the school board policy of maintaining a 25 percent unassigned fund balance, Martinez said the school district has a healthy amount of money in its reserve funds for things like building projects and long-term maintenance. 

In all, Martinez said the school district has just under $2.7 million in reserves with $900,000 set aside for capital projects at the school. As a result, Martinez said the school district could tap into its previously set aside reserve fund, abatement process and indoor air quality levy that will be paid by taxpayers to pay for the upgrades at the school. He said the real question before the school board was how much of its capital projects reserve and reserve funds in general it was comfortable of spending on the projects. 

”The true question then becomes what else do we want to do and what else can we afford,” he said. “You have the reserves you have been building up over time for these purposes.”

Martinez said the school district could essentially complete the playground project, parking lot project, roof project, HVAC system and special education bathroom without spending down its unassigned fund balance.

“What you will be using is that reserve account you have been building for years for that purpose,” he said.

Reinbold said the school district has been extremely conservative in the past at saving money for future projects and now may be the time it needs to spend some of the money it put away to make repairs at the school. 

“We have always been so conservative and built up the fund balances,” he said. “At the same time it looks like we are sitting on a pile of money when the building is crumbling. Maybe it makes sense for us to start fixing some of the things we need to touch.”

The school board also discussed a bevy of other want items on their list for potential replacement in the future. Among the projects that were discussed was replacing some of the worst flooring in the elementary wing of the school, replacing the sidewalks on Marshall Ave., replacing the high school gym floor that dates back to 1959, replacing cabinets and doors in the elementary wing of the school, redoing the elementary bathrooms and replacing the sound system in the gym. Much of the discussion on Tuesday night revolved around replacing the sound system at a cost estimated to be close to $250,000. 

While the school board and Sparks agreed the sound system needs to be at the top of the priority list for future projects, the superintendent said the school board needs to move forward with the exterior projects and ones that tie into the HVAC project first and continue to look into options for the sound system moving forward. She also said the parking lot is a top priority due to the school district’s opportunity to tie the bond into its HVAC bond.

Projects that will be completed in 2024

• The $6.7 million HVAC system will be funded through a special levy on taxpayers. The school district has $600,000 in ESSERS III funding that it will also contribute to the project. 

• The $100,000 playground improvements will be funded through ESSERS III funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The money must be spent in the near future, or the school district will need to return the money. 

• The $255,300 fire alarm system will be replaced due to the current system being deemed obsolete. Finding replacement parts has also become difficult for the school district. 

• The school district will replace a pair of portions of the roof for a total of just under $320,000.

• The elementary windows project will cost an estimated $168,900 and remove the panels, glass block and windows in the elementary wing of the school. The district will also replace the windows with a new system to substantially increase natural light in the classrooms. 

• Construct a new parking lot near the bus garage at a cost of $518,860. The project will tear down an aging storage building and add additional parking near the main entrance of the school, just across the street from the campus itself. The project will be funded through an abatement process that will be levied on taxpayers.