Two local elementary schools to be remodeled

In an effort to reduce crowding and be proactive about the area’s growing population, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District 622 has begun planning for remodeling work to be done at two area elementary schools.

Christine Osorio, superintendent of District 622, recently updated the Oakdale and North St. Paul city councils on the plans to remodel both Castle and Richardson elementary schools. Although the district is still in the planning stage, the renovations are expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Osorio explained at both meetings that although the district has not seen a change in enrollment, there has been changes in how students are served. Today, several specialists, such as school counselors, social workers and English as a second language teachers, work in schools, creating the need for break-out spaces to meet with students in addition to the typical classrooms the facilities have always offered. 

To accommodate this need, school staff across the district have gotten creative using every space available in the buildings by putting offices in hallways, showers, basement storage spaces and electrical closets, which Osorio pointed out are spaces that should never be used to work with students.

“Of our nine principals, every one of them gives up their own personal office for student use space in our elementary schools,” Osorio said at the May 15 North St. Paul City Council meeting.

North St. Paul City Council member Tom Sonnek noted how sad it made him to find out that there was a stage being used as a library due to overcrowding. He asked if the building renovations will also allow for more space for the arts, which Osorio said they would. 

She added that already, the elementary schools offer music, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and physical education in addition to artists in residence, which will continue to be offered after the renovations. However, Osorio said the permanent stages will likely be removed in favor of portable temporary stages that can be packed away when not in use.

 

Addressing overcrowding

Osorio pointed out that last fall, while the district was exploring options to address overcrowding, staff reached out to community members about the possibility of taking the fifth grade classes from the elementary schools and moving them up to the middle school buildings. However, the overall opinion of community members was not in favor of this change and the district took this option off the table, at least for now.

Osorio added that boundary changes for the district’s elementary schools will likely need to be redrawn in the future, but the district plans to wait until Oakdale has more information finalized regarding the housing development planned for the 200 acre property located on the east side of Highway 694, which is bisected by 40th Street North.

“We wouldn’t want to redraw boundaries and then come to find out we miscalculated in some way,” Osorio said at the May 8 Oakdale City Council meeting.

Castle Elementary School, which is located in Oakdale, was chosen to be one of the first schools to be renovated because of the aforementioned housing development, which will fall in the school’s boundary. Renovations will help prepare the school for additional students who are expected to move into that part of the school district.

Richardson Elementary School, which is located in North St. Paul, was chosen because of its proximity to Weaver Elementary School and to the overall boundary of the school district. Osorio said the hope is that the renovations will draw more students to Richardson, make it more palatable for some families to switch from the very crowded Weaver Elementary School, and reduce the number of students from the area who open enroll to schools in other districts.

“Both schools, Castle and Richardson, are very, very important community schools and in many ways lifebloods and the center of those neighborhoods, so I’m pleased that you picked both of these,” said Oakdale Mayor Paul Reinke.

North St. Paul Mayor Mike Kuehn said that he thinks “good facilities build good schools, which build good communities,” adding that he noticed recently that Richardson is in need of refreshing. “I think we’re all excited to see as things progress.” 

Renovations of both schools will include classroom renovations and expansion, flexible learning spaces, secured entrances, increased energy efficiencies and restroom additions, among other changes.

“I work a lot in schools, and I am really, really excited to see that the security part of it is a big component because it’s extremely important for the kids,” said Oakdale City Council member Mark Landis.

 

Funding the renovations

Hopefully the renovations will be done without raising taxes, Osorio said, explaining that the district’s debt forecast is favorable, so as debt is paid off, the district should be able to redirect some of its money towards these renovations.

Osorio explained that some of the funding that the district may be able to “blend and braid” to help cover the cost of the renovations include long-term facilities bonds, lease levy bonds, capital facilities bonds, capital funds and long-term facilities “pay-as-you-go” levy funds.

“We actually will very likely be going out for a referendum renewal [in a few years] with our 2011 referendum ... and when we do, we may be tacking on a facilities bond question as well,” Osorio said, adding, “If we can get voters to approve that, we will be dropping off other taxes they’re currently paying into facilities, so that we can probably get it approved and then actually keep it level — keep their taxes level so that they’re not having to pay more.”

Oakdale City Council member Bill Rasmussen asked about the levy that voters passed for the school district in the 2016 election, and where the money from that levy went.

Osorio explained that the 2016 levy was for operational costs only, so the money goes towards things inside the classrooms, teaching positions and services for students, not for the facilities.

In general, both councils seemed in favor of the renovations, though no council action was necessary at either meeting.

“This has been well thought out,” Landis said of the renovation plans. “This is not something that was done in a month period, and so I commend you guys all for what you’re doing on it.”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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