by Joni Astrup
Spectrum High School in Elk River is expanding.
The public charter school plans to open a separate sixth grade education center at 11044 Industrial Circle, across the street from the existing school at 17796 Industrial Circle. Both sites are located south of Home Depot in the Elk River Business Park.
The Elk River City Council voted 3-2 Monday to approve a conditional use permit for the project.
The new sixth grade facility will be in an existing commercial condo building. The school plans to buy 10 of the 22 condo suites. The suites were built in 2007 but have never been occupied and are unfinished inside.
Spectrum plans to transform the space into seven classrooms and associated school spaces, plus a gymnasium, locker rooms and weight room, according to a project narrative. The gym will be used not only by the sixth graders, but for after-school sports. A warehouse in the business park that is now being leased for wrestling will no longer be needed once the gym is open.
There are several reasons to establish a separate sixth grade center, according to the project narrative:
•Demand for enrollment in sixth grade at Spectrum is much higher than the positions that are open.
•A separate sixth grade center will allow more students to attend Spectrum.
•The separate sixth grade center will afford sixth graders a year to prepare before transitioning into the rigorous academic environment at Spectrum High.
The conditional use permit approved by the City Council limits the sixth grade center’s capacity to no more than 150 students. Ten additional staff members are proposed to be added.
Spectrum High School now houses students in grades six through 12. It serves a student population of 525, which is the capacity under an existing conditional use permit for the current school at 17796 Industrial Circle, according to the project narrative.
Moving sixth graders into the new facility will free up space for additional students at the existing school.
Council members were split over permit
Council members Stewart Wilson and Barb Burandt and Mayor John Dietz voted to approve a conditional use permit for the sixth grade education center. Council members Paul Motin and Matt Westgaard voted against it.
Motin said Spectrum is an excellent school in the wrong location.
“I don’t want in any way to say that they shouldn’t grow,” Motin said. “I guess my view is they shouldn’t grow in the current location.”
The area is an industrial park, he said. The school and the proposed sixth grade center are on a street frequented by semis and other trucks, he said.
Motin also said he preferred to see the proposed sixth grade center space used for its intended industrial purpose.
“We’re coming out of a recession now. We continously hear that the city has a great need for industrial property … and now we’re looking at converting half of that (commercial condo) building for an educational purpose,” he said.
Westgaard echoed Motin’s objections. “I have nothing against Spectrum High School whatsoever,” Westgaard said. “I just think it’s not the right fit.”
Both he and Motin also felt having a school in the building would impact current and future occupants in the rest of the commercial condos.
Additionally, Westgaard said the council had allowed Spectrum into the business park initially to help the school out as it faced challenges finding a site. At that time, Westgaard said Spectrum agreed to a cap on enrollment of 525 students at its current site. Now, he said the school is growing, and that’s great, but it’s taking over the business park. “I really wrestle with that,” he said.
Wilson, however, favored allowing the school to grow.
He said Spectrum has established itself in the community, students want to attend the school and it has a need to expand.
“To stand in opposition to that just doesn’t sit well with me,” Wilson said.
Burandt also favored the expansion, saying the school is doing a good job, has adequate parking and has a good plan to unload buses on the sixth grade center site, off the street.
Both city staff and the Elk River Planning Commission had recommended approval of Spectrum’s request for the conditional use permit as well.
About Spectrum High School in Elk River
•Spectrum High School is a free grade 6-12 public charter school.
•Instruction began in 2006, serving 60 students out of the Boys and Girls Club in Elk River.
•Spectrum now has 525 students enrolled and is located in a school building at17796 Industrial Circle.
•Spectrum’s mission is to encourage students to attain their maximum potential through a three-dimensional strategy emphasizing a college preparatory cirriculum, a technology-rich environment and community-based outreach.
•The student-teacher ratio is, on average, 22:1.
•For more information, go to www.spectrumhighschool.org.
Source: Spectrum High School