The motto hangs on the wall  of the Mora High School office and is written on signs as you enter the building: Welcome to the world’s greatest high school. 

Academically, students at Mora High School perform above state average on standardized tests; athletes win state championships and arts receive accolades. 

However, the building itself is something Mora High School struggles with. While instructors and students are on summer break, Buildings and Grounds Director Chip Brandt is at his busiest coordinating maintenance and finishing repair projects before students return in September. 

Floors are waxed and lockers cleaned, but Brandt’s hands are tied when it comes to other more intensive and high priority repair. 

The school district has a budget of approximately $550,000 for facility maintenance this year. This money is split between the Trailview campus and the high school. Maintenance funds are used for materials and hiring contractors. This funding does not pay any school employee wages. 

Approximately $160,000 of those funds were used to repair a small portion of the high school roof this spring after water began dripping into the third-floor home economics hallway.

Yet roofs aren’t Brandt’s only concern. The boiler is another.

boiler

The boiler room the basement of the original high school built in 1936. Some of the boiler system’s condensate return lines are broken. Those that are accessible have been repaired; however there are some encased in concrete under the auditorium that cannot be accessed unless the concrete is ripped up. As a result, water is lost through the steam lines and more water has to be added back into the system. During the last heating season, approximately 100,000 gallons of water had to be added.

What will break next

The high school is heated with steam. Steam coils in the ductwork eventually break. The current Mora High School was first built in 1936. This 83-year-old section of the building contains the main mechanical systems like the boiler. 

Various additions were made to the high school over time; the most resent was 30 years ago in 1989. 

Six steam coils have been replaced this year at a total cost of $23,300. Each is custom ordered. Some broke during the school year, leaking into classrooms until they were repaired. 

Brandt is aware of other problems in the building but is limited in what he can repair without major structural work and expense. 

As an example, Brandt knows some of the boiler system’s condensate return lines are broken. Those that are accessible have been repaired; however there are some encased in concrete under the auditorium that cannot be accessed unless the concrete is ripped up.

As a result, water is lost through the steam lines and more water has to be added back into the system. During the last heating season, approximately 100,000 gallons of water had to be added. 

On March 13, Brandt received a call that the lower level of the school was flooding, and that water was spraying in through a wall in a storage closet. 

The water was coming from the roofs over the gyms. 

The gym roofs were not designed for water not to flow off of them and away from the building. Instead, rain and spring melt flow from the roofs toward the center of  the building, into a pipe the flows down through the center of the building and into a storm-water drain. 

In March this pipe was blocked with ice; melting snow built up and leaked into the building. The school hired a company to steam the pipe, clearing the blockage at a cost of approximately $200. 

“The worst is the unknown,” Brandt said. “What is going to break next?... It’s not going to be much longer until something major happens.”

Solutions

The increasing difficulty of maintenance and repair has been the main driver behind the Mora School Board’s push to build a new high school addition to the Trailview campus. 

The cost of large projects (like the potential replacement of the boiler system) has long had the school board asking itself: how much money is worth putting in until the school should be rebuilt entirely?

The school board has argued that repairs don’t address other issue of concern like classroom size, removal of lead or asbestos, addition of sprinkler systems or school security. It also doesn’t address the function of spaces with evolving needs like science labs and career-training spaces like the welding and metals shop. 

Locker room

Everything is functional the boys' locker room, but that’s about all Brandt could say of it. Lots of piping and insulation fill the room that both feels and smells stuffy and damp. Chip Brandt said, “It serves its purpose and the kids don’t really know any better.” Brandt’s biggest complaint is that while the locker rooms are near the football field, they are on the opposite side of the school from the gymnasiums where boys take physical education class and play winter sports.

While speaking specifically of the boys locker rooms, but in a way that could be applied school-wide, Brandt said, “It serves its purpose and the kids don’t really know any better.”

Yet bond referendums put forward by the school board have rarely passed. Each has been strongly opposed by residents concerned about the tax impacts. Some have even accused the school of deliberately neglecting maintenance in order to push voters toward building a new facility. 

Another referendum

The school board has presented five bond referendums to voters since 2012. 

Residents of the Mora Public School District will soon have another decision to make as yet another bond referendum to replace the Mora High School is about to hit the ballot. 

The Mora School Board is expected to finalize prices and ballot language in August during a special meeting yet to be determined. 

The school’s plan must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education in what is called a “Review and Comment.”

The vote is tentatively set for Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. 

Watch future issues of the Kanabec County Times for more details on the proposed referendum.