Solutions sought for space crunch in south

• Committees from five schools to take their work to the community next

by Jim Boyle


Committees of parents at five of the Elk River Area School District’s most crowded schools have met individually and as group to prepare a list of short-term and long-term solutions.

The group, 42 members in all, presented its findings so far at the Jan. 13 Elk River Area School Board meeting and now are preparing to present them to the public. This community forum will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, at Hassan Elementary School. The group will solicit feedback on what has been discussed so far as potential fixes to crowding.

The Elk River Area School Board provided feedback on Jan. 22, including that the option of closing off open enrollment to new students might need to be done sooner rather than later.

“As parents we never want to deny anybody’s kids,” Lea Kangas said Jan. 13, while speaking on behalf of the overall group. “We all think (our schools) are the most fabulous place.

“But the reality is we have our kids in this district and there’s not enough space. That was one of the options we came up with.”

Some schools have reverted to using gymnasiums and media centers, computer labs and staff lounges for classrooms.

The group, which represents three elementary schools (Rogers, Hassan and Otsego) as well as Rogers Middle School and Rogers High School, has reviewed the “attendance zone” policy that led to their creation, but changes to attendance zones are only being considered in the realm of new school construction that requires boundary changes.

The group is being assisted by District 728 administrators.

The individual committees, which represent the schools that are at 110 percent of building capacity or more, have also reviewed facility and funding options. They also brainstormed ideas on how to address ideas and developed lists of short-term and long term approaches to the issues of crowding.

The entire school district is expected to be overcapacity in three or four years.

Rogers High School is expected to be at 120 percent of its capacity next school year. Rogers Middle School and Rogers Elementary School are expected to follow suit in the subsequent years.

Once members of the individual school committees gathered as one big group, they reviewed their work and selected their preferred choices.

Short-term solutions they have considered recommending to help the district during the next two school years include:

•Lease space for kindergarten, Early Childhood Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education in the south at a cost of about $225,000 per year.

•Close new open enrollment at a cost of losing $7,000 per student denied.

•Lease alternative space for ninth grade and examine partnership options at a cost of $320,000 a year.

•Increase class sizes and add co-teachers. Online instruction at home could aid this process, Kangas said, such as assigning students videos to watch at home: “My sixth-grade daughter does that now. Again, this is a short-term recommendation. This isn’t something we’re asking for the next several years.”

•Convert computer labs to classrooms and have labs on carts.

Long-range solutions included:

•Add a third wing to Rogers High School at a cost of about $12.7 million.

•Build an E-8 school in Otsego.

•Add eight rooms onto Hassan Elementary at a cost of $3 million.

•Add an early education program at Hassan at a cost of nearly $4 million.

•Add an auditorium at the Rogers High School at a cost of $7 million.

•Add onto existing buildings at a cost of $3.1 million per eight classrooms.

“We’re not asking for every one of these,” Kangas said. “If some of these happen, others might not need to happen.”

The committees will make their final recommendations to the School Board on Feb. 10.