Paladin Academy presents plans for expansion at mall

Paladin Academy’s expansion plans at Northtown Mall include a private entrance and a transportation van unloading area.

The public charter school serves ninth- through 12th-grade students and has a current enrollment of approximately 150 students.

The school is planning for an enrollment of 225 students this coming year, said Executive Director Leisa Irwin, who spoke during a Blaine Planning Commission public hearing July 10.

City Planner Lori Johnson said the school has been operating in Northtown Mall since 2003-2004 without a city-required conditional use permit (CUP).

“We’ve been around nine years,” Irwin told commissioners. “I was surprised we didn’t have a conditional use permit because we had a certificate of occupancy.”

A CUP is required for schools in this city’s regional commercial zoning district, Johnson said.

City staff still recommended approval of the Paladin’s CUP, however.

Normally, the city is concerned about school-related parking needs when CUPs are initially reviewed.

Since Paladin Academy is located within Northtown Mall and vans are utilized for student arrivals and departures, Johnson said staff wasn’t concerned the CUP would create a parking problem around the mall.

“How did we miss a conditional use permit early on,” Commissioner Sue Lahti asked during discussion.

“I have no idea,” Johnson said. “It didn’t occur to the building department to let planning know. It’s been nine years. We don’t have a lot of concerns with this use, but we did miss it.”

Lahti replied: “No harm done.”

Commissioner Richard Edison asked Irwin about current school staffing.

Irwin said Paladin Academy currently has 24 teachers and staff but will add four teachers and one paraprofessional next year.

The school accommodates at-risk students in the north metro, she said.

“Approximately 50 percent of our students come to us after a chemical dependency treatment program, about 35 percent are special education students and about 88 percent qualify for free lunch,” she said.

Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the CUP allowing operation and expansion of the charter school inside Northtown Mall.

Chairman Joe Ouellette said that the Paladin Academy CUP request would be forwarded to the Blaine City Council for review and final approval Aug. 2.

Tim Hennagir is at [email protected]