Grandiose-yet-vetted ISD 831 vision unveiled

The task force on school district facilities presents findings at last week's school board meeting. (Photo by Mary Bailey)
The task force on school district facilities presents findings at last week’s school board meeting. (Photo by Mary Bailey)

Task force presents bold plan to school board

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

The facilities task force concluded their work by presenting a vision for the future at last Thursday’s school board meeting.

No longer the farming community it was in the past, task force members said, the City of Forest Lake has embraced change with a new look on Broadway Avenue and the coming municipal campus.

Now it’s time for the school district to catch up. The price tag? $130 million.

All schools would be upgraded and repaired, but a major focus was on secondary education.

The high school, which the task force called “a cornerstone of the community,” would be renovated. All junior high students would attend an expanded Century Junior High. The result would be a comprehensive 7-12 campus on Scandia Trail.

To pay for the changes, the task force recommended the school district ask the public to support a bond of not more than $130,000,000.

Presenters Tom Paul, Keith Banta and Tom Krinke gave some insight into how the task force came to these conclusions. Paul, a longtime resident and former school board member, said the task force was aided in its work by school district staff but not influenced by them.

“The initiatives are truly the ownership of the committee,” he said.

While the list of needs was long, the group focused on basic essentials. He called the projects that made the final list “a reasonable proposal that the taxpayers of community would support and could afford.”

At the same time, the task force realized they needed to address issues beyond the structures.

“It’s not just the facilities,” he said. “It’s about building a community.”

Keith Banta attended Forest View Elementary, Southwest Junior High and Forest Lake High School, graduating in 1974.

Banta said he was privileged to attend school in new buildings, as Forest View was built in the 1950s, the junior high in the ’60s and the high school in the ’70s.

The high school track, part of the facilities task force presentation to the school board on April 4. (Photo submitted)
The high school track, part of the facilities task force presentation to the school board on April 4. (Photo submitted)

The high school then was a state-of-the-art facility, he said. But while other things have changed, “We’re still using the same schools.”

Original water and gas lines are still in use, he said, and original ventilators. “For a lot of the equipment we have, the people who make the parts are no longer in business.”

He listed crowded conditions, drainage issues, and the unusable high school track.

Banta pointed out recent success stories among Forest Lake students, including winning sports teams and perfect test scores, and asked, “What kind of facilities are we offering them? Everything’s 40 to 50 years old.”

Tom Krinke, an engineer who attended Mounds View schools, said being on the task force opened his eyes and changed his thinking. He knew the district had needs, he said, and wanted to find out what they were.

Initially Krinke was suspicious of school district claims. “Why do we need a three-story building for ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) and Montessori?” he wondered. Now, he said, he’s ashamed of that thought.

“I don’t think people know all the stuff that goes on at the CLC (Central Learning Center),” he said.

Krinke said Forest Lake is using its resources wisely.

“When you understand where the money is going, we’re getting a good bargain. I went to a good high school, but we did not have an automotive repair shop with three lifts, or an ag school with a greenhouse.”

The school district is more a part of the community than people give it credit for, Krinke said.

The task force looked cost effectiveness of repairing versus replacing, transportation costs, and district services (such as the requirement to fund special education from birth to age 21).

Task force members began with widely divergent views, he said, but after separating into discussion groups and then reassembling, they realized their conclusions were very similar.

“It’s a pretty grandiose plan,” he said, “but we did our due diligence. We’re not trying to make the next Woodbury. This is modest by today’s standards, but something we can really be proud of.”

The task force began its work last October, starting with the gap analysis completed by a similar group in 2010. The 2010 study recommended $100 million in upgrades, and the district submitted for public vote a $24 million bond referendum to address some of the issues raised. The referendum was defeated.

The 2012 task force spent three Saturdays visiting all the buildings and athletic fields in the district. They held evening meetings to discuss their findings.

In addition to significant upgrades and expansion at Century Junior High and the high school, the task force proposed major changes at other buildings.

Southwest, no longer needed as a junior high school, would be given a new purpose. The pool would be removed.

The aging Central Learning Center would be sold, and some of its current occupants would be moved to Southwest.

A new pool would be built, either at Century or the high school. Unlike the old pool, the new one would be deep enough to use for diving competition.

Century Junior High could be expanded to house all students in either grades seven to nine (the current grade grouping) or just grades seven and eight, with grade nine moving to the high school (the more traditional arrangement).

Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Mike Kopietz said the Central Learning Center is particularly inefficient, with a high cost for repairs and maintenance. The sidewalk and curb, roof, drainage, heating, ventilation and cooling all present significant problems.

In the video part of the presentation, task force member Dean Barr was shown discussing the issue common to all schools of controlling who enters the building, “so you don’t have outsiders dropping in.”

The task force urged the board to take the proposal to the community as a referendum at the earliest possible time. The school board voted unanimously to accept the report of the task force.

“We will do our absolute best to honor your work,” board member Kathy Bystrom said.