Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 continues to phase out portable classrooms, building permanent ones in time to welcome a larger kindergarten population next year.
State legislation passed in May provides additional funding for elementary schools to offer all-day kindergarten starting in 2014.
Sixteen of District 11’s 24 elementary schools already have all-day kindergarten; all schools will next year.
To prepare for the rush of new, full-time students, building additions are planned for Adams, Eisenhower, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and Sand Creek elementary schools. Each site will gain 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of space, anywhere from six to eight classrooms, according to Chuck Holden, chief operations officer for the district.
Holden estimates that the construction will cost $34.3 million, but the district has worked hard to ensure that taxpayers won’t see an increase in money owed. “We’re proud of that,” he said.
The district spends $4.5 million annually to lease portable classrooms and storefront properties. Some of them have been around for decades, 20 to 30 years, Holden said.
With decreasing enrollment, especially in secondary schools, Anoka-Hennepin has started eliminating portable classrooms and renegotiating storefront leases to save $1 million over the last four years. Each year going forward, the district will maintain, if not increase, $1 million in annual savings.
In 2009, the district maintained 96 portable classrooms; now, that number is closer to 60, and by next fall, Anoka-Hennepin should be down to 40-some portables, according to Holden.
Most of the portable classrooms are at the district’s five high schools.
This summer, Franklin, Jefferson and Sand Creek elementary schools will trade portable classrooms for permanent structures.
It’s an obvious upgrade for Holden. Permanent classrooms feel different – they’re heated and cooled better and perhaps more important, they are safer with no outside access points, he said.
In total, the lease levy will fund 65 percent of the project in the coming years, $22.3 million. Decreasing debt – the district expects a $12 million drop next year – will allow for an increase to the 2015 lease levy without a drastic impact on property taxes, according to Michelle Vargas, the chief financial officer for the district.
As long as new construction is instructional space and amounts to less than 20 percent of a school’s existing area, lease levy money can be used to build permanent structures.
Alternative facility and operating capital funds
To come up with the additional $12 million needed for the project, the district will tap into alternative facility revenues and the operating capital fund balance.
The 2014 preliminary property tax levy, approved by the school board at its Sept. 23 meeting, included an almost 1,400 percent increase to the alternative facilities levy. The levy rose from $598,000.41 to $8,125,938.41, but with legislative changes, including increased state aid, the total tax levy will still decrease 6.41 percent to save taxpayers’ dollars.
“The past several years, we’ve been pushing off projects in order to balance the tax levy and maintain a zero percent increase …,” Vargas said at the board meeting.
“For FY15, $6 million in delayed projects are moved up to coincide with the elementary site additions to accommodate all-day, everyday kindergarten for the fall of 2014,” Vargas’ proposal states.
Another $6 million will come out of the operating capital fund balance.
The school board will review bids for construction this fall and work will begin in the spring, following a tight timeline to finish before school starts in September 2014, Holden said.
Olivia Koester is at [email protected]