District 621 needs more space

Mounds View Schools look to bond proposal

To prevent further crowding in hallways and classrooms — and extended use of temporary, sometimes portable space — Mounds View School District is looking to better match its facilities to its needs. In short, the district needs more elbow room. 

According to administrators, enrollment in the district is at its highest level in 15 years, exceeding 11,000 students last year. 

That number is only growing.   

A district newsletter noted that the number of residents within the school district is projected to grow, “increasing 18-29 percent in the next 10 years, with a large share of the projected increase occurring in the second five years.”

Much of that projected growth is in anticipation of the Rice Creek Commons development in Arden Hills, a project with a not-yet-set completion date, that is nonetheless on the minds of District 621 leaders. 

The development, at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site, will essentially add three new neighborhoods to the school district. At 427 acres, the property is roughly the size of downtown St. Paul. 

Even without Rice Creek Commons on its hands, superintendent Chris Lennox noted that space is currently dwindling “at all schools” in the district. 

He announced in the May 16 newsletter that the district is working on a development proposal for growing its facilities, including cost estimates and a drawn-up timeline, that would allow for a bond referendum on this year’s Nov. 7 Election Day.

Lennox noted that “it would be the first facilities bond request in 18 years” for the district.

According to Lennox, District 621 is the tenth largest school district in the state and approximately 1,600 students are expected to join its schools within the next seven years. It’s a detail that knocks down a former demographer’s estimate that the district’s schools would be “right-sized for a decade,” Lennox said. 

“That reality has changed significantly,” he said, explaining that as of late, students often gather for small-group instruction in hallways, stairwells or lobbies because classrooms are full; that students also have limited access to flexible learning spaces to collaborate, brainstorm, design and create; and that cafeterias are packed with students at lunch.

“A quick tour of any school tells it all,” Lennox said. 

But Lennox, who became superintendent last year, said it isn’t only the space issue that needs to be addressed. 

“At the same time, our schools are showing their wear and tear,” he said. “The average age of school buildings is 57 years old, and the most recent additions occurred about 15 years ago.”

If the bond is successfully proposed by the School Board and then approved by area voters, Lennox explained it would “provide the funding necessary to add flexible classroom space to all schools.” It could also be used to address aging infrastructure and enhance safety, he added. 

Though just how much money would be required to address all the district’s needs — and how much of a property tax increase that would entail — has not yet been determined, Lennox said administrators will keep residents updated as more details on the bond proposal come to light.  

“These schools belong to our community,” Lennox said. “It’s up to us all to ensure they keep pace with space.”

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

 

 

 

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