Spring Lake Park approves first boarding school

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.

Life Prep Academy, a private school in Spring Lake Park serving homeless and at-risk high school students, has been given the green light from the City Council to house up to eight students at its current location in the city.

Pam Wolf Sladek, director of Life Prep Academy, has welcomed students into her own home in the past, but recently the school secured a donation to renovate the building Life Prep currently occupies so that more students have a place to call home.

Wolf Sladek requested the city amend the zoning code to allow boarding schools as a conditional use in shopping center commercial districts. Then she made a formal application for a conditional use permit to run a boarding school at 1628 County Highway 10 NE.

“Having the dormitory on site would allow them to serve more easily and serve more students,” City Planner Phil Carlson said in a presentation to council Sept. 5. “The request for this kind of use in this district is not uncommon in other commercial districts around the region.”

Council voted to amend the zoning code Aug. 7 and approved Wolf Sladek’s specific permit a month later.

The permit allows up to eight students to live at the school for the first six months of operation. After that time, the number of students can increase to 16.

The Planning Commission forwarded Wolf Sladek’s application to the council with the condition that no more than six students be allowed to reside at Life Prep without amendments to the CUP.

“I think the commission felt comfortable setting an initial limit at six in order to have it essentially be a trial not only for (Wolf Sladek) … but for us to see what the impact of this is going to be on city services and the like,” City Administrator Dan Buchholtz said.

Wolf Sladek intends to start with six students, supervised by a minimum of two adults in the building at all times, and see how things run, but she did not want to have to apply for amendments to the CUP repeatedly with costs to do so.

“It’s been $3,000 to get to this point,” Wolf Sladek said. “I don’t want to have to keep coming back and spend that money.”

“I like what you’re doing,” Council Member Barbara Goodboe-Bisschoff said. “I think it’s a good thing, a very good thing.”

Goodboe-Bisschoff made a motion to change the maximum number of students to eight at the onset and expand that to 16 after six months if all goes well.

There were some concerns voiced about the possibility of increased police calls with a boarding school in the city, and council decided to add a condition to the CUP spelling out the fact that Life Prep is considered a rental property and therefore must obey code mandating a three-strikes rule for rental tenants.

Since the school opened in 2014, there have been no police calls, Wolf Sladek said.

Another condition of the permit is that Life Prep Academy must develop policy outlining expectations and rules residents must abide by, as well as consequences for any infractions of those rules. The policy must be approved by city staff.

“We expect (students) to be motivated to abide by our rules and expectations,” Wolf Sladek said.

Currently, the school has put a hold on enrollment while renovations occur.

To transform the school into a boarding school, Life Prep must install showers in bathrooms, a full kitchen and a sprinkler system.

A $150,000 donation from MinneapolisNEXT, a nonprofit dedicated to serving low-income students in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, will help finance renovations, but fundraising continues.

A dorm fundraiser is set to occur from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Mermaid, 2200 Mounds View Blvd., Mounds View. The school is financed 100 percent by donations.

Wolf Sladek hopes dormitory renovations will be substantially completed by Nov. 1, at which time students will be enrolled in the program once again. The school has graduated three students so far, and there is currently a waiting list.

For more information about Life Prep Academy, visit www.lifeprepacademymn.com.

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