District asks community to invest in aging facilities

School superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak presented “Referendum 2019 Ballot” at the Aug. 28 White Bear Rotary Club meeting.

WHITE BEAR LAKE — The average age of school buildings in the district is 50 years.

The district’s proposed $326 million bond referendum, which will be on the ballot this fall, will provide updates at all district schools, a new elementary school in Hugo and a renovated, one-campus high school.

Taking care of district building upgrades is the responsibility of the community, according to Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tim Wald. The state provides funding for teaching and learning, but building quality is the decision of the community.

“All school facilities are entirely the responsibility of the community, so if we are going to build a new school, that becomes our community’s responsibility,” Wald told a group gathered at last week’s White Bear Rotary Club meeting. The district has systems in some schools that are 50 to 70 years old. It hasn’t built a new or renovated secondary school since 1974.

“At some point you have to ask the taxpayers, are we ready to invest in our facilities?” he noted.

The bond referendum was also put forth due to growing enrollment. The district projects that more than 2,000 new students will move into the district during the next 10 years due to housing growth. The growth will be 25% higher than current capacity. New homes in the northern part of the district and turnover of homes in the southern part of the district will both contribute to the growth.

“The students are coming, and we have to be ready for them,” Wald noted.

Districtwide safety and security improvements are also part of the plans. The district has secure entries at each school but wants to make additional improvements since students elevated their voices for school safety after the 2018 Florida school shooting. “We need to double down on school safety and security,” Wald said.

Flexible learning spaces are also part of the plans. There would be new furniture in most of the classrooms. The plans were put forth by a 90-member facilities committee that met this winter.

Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak told the Rotarians that it is a complex plan, but it addresses the district’s needs. “It would take care of our needs for many, many years to come,” he explained.

According to the bond referendum plans, North Campus would be expanded to house all high school grades. Sunrise Park Middle School would be moved to South Campus. Sunrise would become an early childhood center, transition center and senior center, and would house district offices. The vacated District Center, where the district offices are currently, would be an expansion for Central Middle School.

There would be a new elementary school in Hugo near the post office. Oneka Elementary would be converted from a grade 2-5 school into a K-5 school. Hugo Elementary would be converted from K-1 to an early childhood center. Kindergarten through fifth grade enrollment at Hugo and Oneka elementary schools could nearly double within a decade, according to a recent enrollment projection study.

A question asked at the meeting was why North Campus was chosen as the site for a one-campus high school rather than South Campus, because the southern location appears to have more open land.

The North Campus site is actually larger, Kazmierczak said, and it is centrally located so that students who live further north wouldn’t have to drive half an hour to school. About 60 percent of students currently live south of North Campus and 40 percent live north, Wald added. The district expects that to become half and half soon. Homes are turning over in the south, but growth is occurring in the north, Kazmierczak noted.

Another attendee at the meeting asked what would happen if the bond didn’t pass this year, would the district come back with a smaller amount? Yes, the district would regroup and ask again, Kazmierczak said. Also questioned was why the bond referendum was put on the ballot in an off year, when not many political positions will be on the ballot. Kazmierczak responded: “An off year is not necessarily a bad time to be doing a school election. People tend to pay a little bit more attention to local issues in off years.”

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