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South Washington County Schools to begin studying space needs

Where south Washington County residents see new housing development, School District 833 sees future students.

Now, as area home construction rebounds, district officials are beginning to plan where those future students will attend school.

The district is launching a long range facility planning process to determine how to accommodate projected enrollment growth through 2025.

“As we build our next building, we want to make sure we’re building it on a long term plan and not short term,” Superintendent Keith Jacobus said. “We will begin preparation for adequate space for an influx of students in the near future.”

Housing construction is ramping up in both Cottage Grove and Woodbury. There are about 4,000 acres of land across the two cities where as many as 12,000 new residential units could be built over 10 to 15 years, said Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations. The district needs to be proactive and plan for growth, he added.

A similar planning process was used in 2005. It led to passage a year later of a $149 bond referendum that built East Ridge High School and funded expansion and improvements at other schools.

The district anticipated returning to the School Board by 2009 to address middle school space constraints, but a sluggish housing market slowed enrollment growth, Vogel said.

“That development pace is now starting to pick up again in our communities,” he said.

The process begins this month with a steering committee of administrators and District 833 School Board members. They’ll compile district population growth projections, school enrollment estimates and expected building needs. The committee will develop up to four alternatives for how to address enrollment growth and space constraints, particularly at the middle school level.

The committee will select a long range facilities task force of school employees and 12 to 15 community members. That task force will spend May and June reviewing the alternatives.

Revised alternatives will then be presented to the public at three or four public meetings in August and September.

The School Board, which signed off on the long range facilities planning process Dec. 19, would be asked to approve a final plan by October.

The start of this planning process follows voters’ narrow rejection in November of an $8 million bond measure that would have funded land acquisition for a new elementary school and a middle school.

Jacobus has said the district likely will be back before voters in 2015 seeking funding for new school construction.

Amber Kispert-Smith contributed to this story.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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