Stillwater School Board to consider expansion projects, renovations and selling buildings

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The Stillwater School Board will be making big decisions about the future of the district, after receiving more than a dozen recommendations in a long-range facility plan on Thursday.

A Community Design Team (CDT) started working on the plan about six months ago. Sixty-five educators, community members, students and parents drafted the proposal.

It includes about $250 million worth of improvements to district schools. "We looked at every school and every school has a need," said Michael Kaul, a high school teacher and CDT member. "Even those that were marked as maybe a middle or low priority, they are still an incredibly high priority to students, to parents and staff at those buildings. We recognize that and we would really encourage the board to look at those as soon as possible."

The CDT ranked each recommendation based on urgency by looking at enrollment data, financial information and touring each school.

"We're moving forward, so we best put our resources in this district," said Kaul. "We're estimating in the next three to four years as many as 900 homes will be built in the southern part of our district, so where would those students go?"

The long-range facility plan identified Lake Elmo Elementary as the most urgent situation. 

It recommends replacing the current building with a new school, which could accommodate about 450 to 650 students. A second school would be built at another location to accommodate an additional 450 to 650 students.

The construction would nearly double the capacity of Lake Elmo Elementary. "The school has needed attention for years and that is a top priority," said Board Member Jennifer Pelletier. Stillwater School Board Chair Sarah Stivland agrees. "It's a very, very old and beautiful building but it's in very poor shape," said Stivland. "I think there will be a lot of excitement as we continue to talk about that."

Stivland was one of three school board members on the CDT, including Mike Ptacek and Mark Burns.

The CDT made 14 recommendations in the plan.

Expanding the district's newest school, Brookview Elementary was also listed as "highest priority." According to the report, the addition is needed because of the growth in that part of the district.

The team suggested moving district offices and programming for at-risk students to Oak Park Elementary, which closed in 2017. The current Central Services building would be sold. 

They also recommended selling Withrow Elementary, which also closed in 2017.

"The CDT team did not recommend opening up Oak Park as a traditional elementary and I support that recommendation," said Pelletier. She told us the Brookview addition is overdue. "My hope is that the board will take that seriously and act on it as soon as possible," said Pelletier. "It's our duty to serve our students in this area."

The school board has been considering the Brookview expansion since 2018 but there's been debate over how to fund the project. "We go to the voters, they have the right to decide," said Stivland. She said the recommendations outlined in the long-range facility plan are just a proposal. The board will decide which items move forward. "What we have heard from the community already is there's an interest in restoring buildings we already own rather than building new," said Stivland. "Before we consider going to the community and asking for the support for building new buildings, we want to make sure that we're making the best use of the building we have."

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Stivland if she would like to see elementary students return to Oak Park Elementary.  "I think at this point, all options are still on the table," she said. "I think we need to do some more survey work with our community to find out what people are willing to support and what they're interested in."

Stivland said the board is at the beginning of the process and voters may not see a bonding proposal until 2021.

Both board members told us they're excited about the recommendation to improve the high school auditorium, expanding it to 1,000 seats.  "These are some really important things that are part of this project," said Pelletier. "Yes, they're expensive, but with the growing nature of the community, these are exciting times. I hope and believe that our public will get behind it."

Superintendent Denise Pontrelli declined 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS request for an interview.

District Spokesperson Carissa Keister sent us a statement, which reads:

"We are grateful to the members of the Community Design Team for their time and their commitment to the long-range facilities planning process. They gave up many nights away from their families to put together a list of priorities to ensure our students and residents have access to quality facilities for years to come. The Community Design Team's recommendation is just the first step on this journey. We will be having many more conversations with our school board and our community about where to go from here as we consider a future bond referendum request. Our hope is that we can create a vision for the future that will unify our community and provide our students with safe, welcoming and inspiring spaces to learn."

Here are the 14 recommendation in the Long Range Facility Plan:

  1. Lake Elmo Elementary: Replace Lake Elmo with two separate facilities, one located on the current site and the other on a new site. Each should be able to accommodate 450-650 students. Est. cost of a new school on existing site is $40.2-49.1 million. Est. cost of school on new site is $43.5-52.4 million.
  2. Brookview Elementary: Add eight classrooms by extending two of the existing grade level neighborhood wings to the west. Add student restrooms and support spaces. Est. cost is $6.2 million.
  3. Oak Park Building: Renovate spaces Transitions currently occupies to accommodate their needs, relocate the ALC program from the High School, which frees up classroom space there. Consolidate Central Services functions here. Est. cost of full remodel for Central Services, Transition Program and ALC is $12.4 million.
  4. Stonebridge Elementary: re-design and re-configure open learning environments in the south half of the building, improve natural light in media center and windowless classrooms adjacent to it. Re-design will address storage and acoustical issues. Est. cost of cluster upgrades is $0.4 million. Est. cost of classrooms, daylight and media center upgrades is $8 million.
  5. Central Services: relocate to Oak Park Building. Sell this building with proceeds going towards the Oak Park improvements. 
  6. Withrow Elementary: sell unoccupied building with annual cost savings of 45,000-70,000 per year.
  7. Oak-Land Middle School: New addition to the west for gym space and music suite of spaces, improve daylight to classrooms with new windows. Est. cost of flex space, gym and music addition is $12.9 million. Est. cost of daylight and sound upgrades is $1.67 million.
  8. Lily Lake Elementary: renovate and re-configure the open 5th-grade learning neighborhood and media center on the northeast corner of the building, upgrade ASD cluster. Create flexible learning space between the classroom wings and a new music room, which allows cafeteria to expand. Est. cost of bathroom remodel, special ed upgrades and new flex space is $3.1 million. Est. cost of open classroom remodel, cafeteria remodel and new music room is $4.6 million. Est. cost of media center upgrade is $1.1 million.
  9. Stillwater High School: Create larger Performing Arts Auditorium, create flexible collaborative learning spaces, expand administrative area at the main entry. Est. cost of administration, entry space and security upgrades, plus flex spaces is $4.5 million. New 1,000 seat auditorium is $17.7 million.
  10. Southern Early Childhood Family Center: Possibly build a new Early Childhood Family Center or add programming to new and remodeled elementary schools. Est. cost of single standing building is $17 million.
  11. Afton-Lakeland Elementary: New gym, existing gym re-purposed as open flexible space, media center renovations. Est. cost of flex space is $0.9 million. Est. cost of new gym and media center upgrades is $5.1 million.
  12. Andersen Elementary: Remodel media center and shift small number of students to Lily Lake Elementary to accommodate growing enrollment. Est. cost of media center upgrades is $1.1 million.
  13. Stillwater Middle School: Renovation of academic spaces that have no access to daylight, including media center, special education classrooms, science and health classrooms. Create open learning commons adjacent to the science classrooms on the east side of the building. GATE program remains with improvements to secure entry. Est. cost of library remodel, daylight and sound upgrades is $5.5 million. Est. cost of flex/media center heart is $40.2-$49.1 million.
  14. Rutherford Elementary: Remodel media center space. Est. cost of media center upgrades is $1.3 million