In St. Paul Area, School District Considers New Elementary School

Spring Lake Park School District officials are considering buying 20 acres in a huge housing development in northern Blaine for a new elementary school.

An agreement is "very close,'' school district business manager Jim Westrum said Monday.

The news comes as the district's Facilities Task Force this week holds the first of three community meetings laying out the case for voters to pass a $90 million bond referendum to repair and remodel facilities up to 50 years old and to possibly construct an elementary school.

The parcel of land being considered is west of Cloud Drive Northeast and south of Main Street Northeast at the northwest corner of The Lakes, a planned community that will eventually include more than 3,000 homes.

Westrum would not discuss terms under discussion, nor would he initially identify the exact site, saying negotiations have been verbal and are incomplete.

Blaine community development director Brian Schafer, however, identified the site, near a still unnamed and undeveloped 15-acre park. Westrum then confirmed the site.

"We sat down and worked with (the school district) on a number of different parcels. This one seemed to hit all their triggers,'' Schafer said. He said if the deal goes through, Blaine staff would recommend the area be rezoned from industrial to allow a school to be built there.

The land is owned by Main Street 1000, The Lakes' developer.

The school board delegated Westrum and District Superintendent Don Helmstetter to look into possible locations for an elementary school and to negotiate terms of any agreement.

The board, however, would have the final say on any such agreement, which could be made contingent on voter passage of a bond referendum. Board members also must decide whether to build an elementary school.

Discussion about building an elementary school began this spring and heated up over the summer because of increasing student enrollment in Blaine and the poor condition of Kenneth Hall Elementary School in the district's southern end.

At issue is the need for major renovations at some of the district's schools, especially Hall and Spring Lake Park High School. Construction advisers have recommended building a new elementary because of the high cost of renovating Hall.

Early this year the district convened a 16-member task force of staff and citizens to study the condition of district facilities that are 35 to 50 years old.

Preliminary recommendations included building the elementary, but the task force will make final recommendations to the school board in November. Residents could go to the polls in February to vote for or against a bond.

The district serves 4,300 students living in Spring Lake Park, Blaine and Fridley.

(c) 2005 Associated Press