FIRST OF TWO PARTS
By Sue Webber
In these days when you often hear of schools closings and downsizing, Wayzata School District may be the exception to the rule.
“We are growing,” Wayzata Supt. Chace Anderson said, in an online video regarding the vote. “We will grow twice as fast in the next decade as we did in the last decade.”
The district needs additional space to accommodate more high school students and 14-16 additional elementary classrooms need to fulfill the mandate for state-funded all-day kindergarten.
District residents will have a chance to weigh in on the district’s needs Tuesday, Feb. 25, at a special bond election comprised of two questions.
First, the district is asking voters to approve $109.645 million in bond funding to expand Wayzata High School, build a new elementary school and upgrade safety, security and technology infrastructure districtwide.
The district is projecting a cost of $69.7 million to expand the high school, $26.1 million to build a new elementary school and $13.825 million for districtwide infrastructure.
If the bonding package is approved, the an average homeowner whose valuation is $333,900 would pay $123 annually or $10 monthly.
A second request asks voter approval to renew the existing technology levy of $27 million a year for 10 years to fund technology equipment, support and training districtwide. The current levy expires in 2016.
There would be no additional annual tax impact to residents for renewal of the existing levy.
The last time voters were asked to approve Wayzata School District building bonds was in 1998.
NEW HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS
The need for additional space has been fueled by a rapid increase in total district enrollment, from 9,732 students in 2006-07 to 10,673 in 2013-14.
Enrollment at the senior high school, already the largest in Minnesota, is at 3,273 this year, and is expected to hit 4,100 by 2021-22, an increase of 900 students.
An upsurge in new housing developments in the northern part of the school district – Maple Grove, Medina, Minnetonka, Plymouth and Corcoran – has resulted in 1,200 new homes in the district during the past four years and another 1,600 new homes projected to be built in the next four years.
Plymouth alone 1,057 homes in the pipeline in 17 developments; Medina has 539 new homes projected in seven developments; and Corcoran is showing 200-440 new homes. Another 71 new homes are being projected in three developments in Minnetonka.
SCHOOLS AT CAPACITY
According to district officials, Wayzata High School and most of the district’s seven elementaries and three middle schools are at capacity.
Open enrollment has been closed for two years, but the state still requires districts to allow a certain number of open-enrolled students.
In 2013-14, Wayzata has 777 nonresidents attending the district through open enrollment, while 506 resident students choose open enrollment in another public school district, according to Jim Westrum, Wayzata’s executive director of finance and business.
“The net impact results in approximately 271 nonresident students in our district,” Westrum said. “In addition, 107 Wayzata residents choose to attend a charter school located outside of the district, resulting in an overall net gain of 164 students, or a net average enrollment of 12 students per grade in 2013-14. State law requires 1 percent per grade, or eight or nine students per grade.”
Most of the current open enrollees are siblings of students who already attend Wayzata schools, according to Amy Parnell, the district’s director of communications. “The school board believes that families should be kept together,” Parnell said.
An expanded high school campus would include $7.4 million for land and expanding the four-story building with another academic wing on the east side of the current building (68,704 square- feet).
The 172,000 square-foot addition also would include new spaces for music and performing arts on the southwest side of the building (28,185 square-feet), physical education space on the northwest side of the building (44,452 square-feet) and cafeteria, food service and student commons areas on the north side of the building (29,404 square-feet).
If approved, construction on the high school expansion would begin in the winter of 2014-15 and would be ready for occupancy in fall 2016.
The Wayzata district last year purchased 36 acres of the 100-acre Elm Creek Golf Course land, according to Westrum.
“The land we purchased is adjacent (just west) of the existing high school property,” Westrum said. “We anticipate that the land will be used to replace fields or parking that may displaced by adding an addition to the existing high school buildings. The land may also be used to provide the roads that provide an additional access to the high school campus.”
An eighth elementary school would be located in the northern part of the district on 20 acres north of Highway 55, though the land has not yet been purchased, Parnell said. The 83,000 square-foot building would be ready by fall 2016 and would provide capacity for 760 students.
Improvements in district infrastructure would include improved entrance security at all buildings, upgraded technology infrastructure between buildings, and upgraded energy savings options. If the referendum is approved, those improvements would begin in summer 2014.
SECOND HIGH SCHOOL DISCUSSED
If the referendum is defeated, district officials have said they would be forced to develop a short-term plan to address overcrowding and then return to voters with an updated recommendation to provide needed space.
Though Parnell said district officials are not aware of organized opposition to the referendum, a group of parents earlier wanted to discuss building a second high school rather than expanding the current building, she said.
District officials are recommending expansion of the high school rather than building a new facility based on recommendations from the Community Task Force on Facilities, the Citizens Financial Advisory Council, the School Board Facilities Committee and input from staff and board as well as administrative review.
“That decision really was made in the ‘90s, when a similar task force decided to build a high school to accommodate 3,200 students,” Parnell said. “The state expects school districts to use the space they have. If we built a second high school, it would have to be significantly smaller and there would be a problem providing an equitable learning experience for students in the second building.”
In addition to construction costs, operating costs for a second high school likely would exceed an additional $616,000 a year, or $12 million over the next 20 years, according to officials.
The current high school was built in 1997. Two other buildings – Central Middle School and West Middle School – at one time served as the high school facility, Westrum said.
The district has been working on a long-range facilities plan since 2010 with the help of Wold Architects.
The Wayzata district encompasses 38 square-miles roughly bounded on the north by 67th Avenue North, on the east by Medicine Lake, on the west by Willow Drive in Medina, and extending one mile south of the Interstate 394/494 interchange. The district includes all or part of Corcoran, Maple Grove, Medicine Lake, Medina, Minnetonka, Orono, Plymouth and Wayzata.
Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at six combined polling places on Feb. 25. To find your polling location, call 753-745-5070, or visit pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us
Information: wayzata.k12.mn.us/referendum, email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on the referendum hotline at 763-745-5050.
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