Construction starts for District 916 special education school

Long hallways with multiple doors for classrooms may be fine in a traditional school environment, but they do not work so well for the students in Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916 broke ground June 19 on a 70,000 square-foot school that will serve K-8 special needs students with autism spectrum disorder and emotional-behavioral disorders. The school will be open the fall of 2014. Photo by Eric Hagen

Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916 broke ground June 19 on a 70,000 square-foot school that will serve K-8 special needs students with autism spectrum disorder and emotional-behavioral disorders. The school will be open the fall of 2014. Photo by Eric Hagen

The school district serves students with autism spectrum disorders and emotional and behavioral disorders that other school districts do not have the financial resources or expertise to educate, according to Superintendent Connie Hayes.

To better serve these students and ease the transportation burden on the school districts themselves, the district has been working for the past several years with its 10 member districts to build a new school in its northern coverage area and it will continue working on other facility consolidation projects for elementary students in the southern area of the district as well as a new facility for the high school students, Hayes said.

The first project will be to construct a 70,000 square-foot school for up to 150 K-8 students. When the school opens at 3764 95th Ave. NE in Blaine in the fall of 2014, the school expects enrollment to be around 95 students with 88 staff instructing them.

The new District 916 school will be called the Karner Blue Education Center. This homage to a butterfly species reflects the school’s goal of having outdoor learning opportunities for the students. The district has already successfully integrated the environment in its teachings through a garden at one of its schools and field trips to the Boundary Waters, according to Hayes.

The design of the building interior will be more open than a traditional school with what school officials are calling learning community pod areas.

A lot of attention will even be paid to the colors on the wall and the furniture in the room to create a warmer atmosphere of learning and incorporate nature connections, according to Hayes, who called it “a therapeutic learning environment.”

The message Hayes wants to emphasize is that these students can learn.

Val Rae Bo, who will be the principal at the new school, holds up origami Karner Blue butterflies the students made to illustrate the name of the new school.

Val Rae Bo, who will be the principal at the new school, holds up origami Karner Blue butterflies the students made to illustrate the name of the new school.

“None of these kids are throwaway kids,” she said. “We know in our experience that if you’re able to wrap the right kind of expertise around students, they can get better.”

School districts typically will have some type of special education services, but not all at the same level of expertise, so the 10 member school districts will tell parents or guardians about the District 916 option if it feels it can no longer meet the special needs of the student.

The 10 member school districts are Centennial, Columbia Heights, Mahtomedi, Mounds View, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Roseville, South Washington County, Spring Lake Park, Stillwater and White Bear Lake.

Marilynn Forsberg said the Spring Lake Park School District 16 had been a member of District 916 long before she was elected to the school board in 1982 and it has been a wonderful working relationship. District 16 stretches from northern Fridley to northern Blaine and its special needs students enrolled in District 916 had to be transported all the way to White Bear Lake because the home school district is still legally required to coordinate transportation.

They will now have a much shorter ride to the new school on the southwest corner of 95th and Hamline avenues and just east of I-35W.

According to Hayes, District 916 will no longer be utilizing two White Bear Lake Area Schools buildings. It had been leasing space at the Hugo-Oneka Elementary School, but the school district needs this space for more classrooms.

District 916 built and owned an addition onto the Otter Lake Elementary School, which it will now lease back to the White Bear Lake School District.

To pay for this new school being constructed by Kraus-Anderson, the 10 member school districts will levy their own taxpayers as a separate line item from their own funding needs. There are students who are not from one of the 10 member districts. District 916 estimates students come from about 50 school districts. Non-member districts do pay District 916 for educating their students.

“It’s so great to see this come to fruition,” said Marre Jo Sager, a member of the Mounds View School Board.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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