District 11 referendum questions coming later this month

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Throughout the month of May, Anoka-Hennepin School District staff hosted community meetings at each of the district’s five traditional high schools to discuss proposed facility changes.

Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law answers questions at a community meeting about proposed facility changes, held at Anoka High School May 25. Photo submitted
Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law answers questions at a community meeting about proposed facility changes, held at Anoka High School May 25. Photo submitted

The School Board has determined to ask voters for additional funding Nov. 7.

The exact amount of the ask is still being fine-tuned, but Superintendent David Law estimates it will be somewhere between $200 million and $250 million, which would increase taxes on most properties in the district between $10 and $15 monthly.

Conversations kicked off at Champlin Park High School May 17 and concluded at Blaine High School May 30.

Dozens of residents attended each session in person, and thousands more watched online as meetings were broadcast live and archived on the district’s Facebook page.

Law and Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden gave a brief presentation before the reins were turned over to community members with questions.

Law recapped the work that has led to plans to construct two new elementary schools and additions at all five high schools, among other projects.

The 32-member Fit For the Future Task Force spent most of 2016 studying the state of the district today and projections of what the future holds for District 11 before presenting nine recommendations to the School Board in January 2017.

Most recommendations pertain to expanding the capacity and improving the condition of current buildings. Each existing building needs to be reviewed and renovated “to meet 21st century students needs and make the schools appealing inside and out,” one task force recommendation stated.

Another recommendation called for portable classrooms to be removed. There are currently 62 portable classrooms in the district, most at high schools.

The task force’s final recommendation was to present a referendum to voters, which the board formally agreed to do prior to community meetings.

Questions will be determined this month using input from community meetings and multiple community surveys. Questions will be finalized in July before appearing on ballots this November.

“Across our district, growth has been inconsistent,” Law said, noting particular population booms in Blaine and Ramsey, proposed sites of two new elementary schools.

Law said he has heard a myth circulating in the community: Elementary schools shut down in 2010 are sitting empty and could be used to accommodate growing student counts.

That is not the case, Law said. Elementary schools were all repurposed or sold.

Besides, “where we have growth in Ramsey and in Blaine, we don’t have elementary schools,” Law said.

Anoka-Hennepin purchased 37 acres at 4501 125th Ave. NE in Blaine in January for $2.8 million.

“The Blaine city manager said, ‘You better buy quickly, or you won’t be building in Blaine,’” Law said.

Even with recent additions to Johnsville and University Avenue elementary schools, both in Blaine, space is getting tight.

“It’s developing very quickly,” Holden said. “It’s the fastest growing suburb in the metro.”

It’s a similar story in Ramsey, where the district is working to acquire 34 acres of farmland near 170th Avenue and Nowthen Boulevard in Ramsey.

“There’s a lot of land to be developed in that area,” Holden said.

Dayton is developing, but at a slower pace, Holden said, noting that Dayton Elementary school currently has 425 students with capacity for 600.

“We don’t need to act quickly (in Dayton),” Holden said. But “in Blaine and Ramsey, we’re in a tough spot.”

Proposed elementary schools will resemble the newest elementary schools in the district, Oxbow Creek in Champlin and Rum River in Andover, both two stories.

Some residents have questioned the size of the schools, each designed to house 1,000 students.

With pods for each grade level, “it has a small-school feel in a larger school,” Holden said. “It’s very efficient.”

To remove portables, additions will be necessary at four of the five traditional high schools. Coon Rapids High School has no portable classrooms, but an addition there would also improve school safety.

“All of our weight and fitness rooms – they’re about half the size they should be,” Holden said.

Modifications to all buildings, with particular focus on media centers and science classrooms, are in the works.

“The things that you’re seeing here today are based on need,” Law said.

In 2020-2021, the investment made in 1999 to build Andover High School, Oxbow Creek and Rum River will be paid off, so taxes will drop if no action is taken, Law said.

But “we will be asking to reinvest that money and perhaps a little bit more,” Law said. A $10 to $15 increase “is, compared to our neighbors, a fraction of what they asked for to upgrade their facilities.”

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