District 518 hosts facilities forum

WORTHINGTON -- Concern over a potential move of fifth-graders from Prairie Elementary to Worthington Middle School and worries about the unpredictable future dominated the public discussion of District 518's possible facilities changes Thursday.

District 518
District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Concern over a potential move of fifth-graders from Prairie Elementary to Worthington Middle School and worries about the unpredictable future dominated the public discussion of District 518's possible facilities changes Thursday.

"It's a balancing equation. Does a bus close or stay open, does the economy pick up or close down, does one of our local schools close or stay open, does the birth rate increase or does it decrease," said Linden Olson, a member of the District 518 Board of Education. "We're dealing with kids here who aren't even conceived yet."

About 30 people attended the public meeting to discuss the three-part facilities improvements under consideration by the school board. Attendees first listened to a brief slideshow prepared by Superintendent John Landgaard, and then had the opportunity to ask questions and comment on the possibilities presented.

The district's energy performance improvements are already under way, paid for by the district's operational budgetary savings. The projects focus on water and energy efficiency. These improvements are projected to cost approximately $1,831,768.

The second prong of the district's plan revolves around the improvement of indoor air quality and has not yet begun. The projects would be paid for by the district's health and safety funding or through voter-approved bonding and would cost about $8.4 million.


The third element of the presentation revolved around the district's building and space needs, given its increasing enrollment and increasing federal and state educational standards.

The majority of questions, comments and concerns addressed to Landgaard, other administrators and the school board regarded the various possibilities for increasing the district's available space for students.

The district's enrollment projections for 2009-2010 are 1,108 students for Prairie, which has a 1,150-student capacity; 496 students for WMS, which has a 650-student capacity; 735 for Worthington High School, which can house up to 950 students; and 65 for the Area Learning Center, which can take on 150 students.

The exact enrollment numbers will continue to fluctuate until school begins and even throughout the school year, but Prairie Elementary is already near its capacity, prompting school officials to consider the following options:

l Do nothing. Eventually the district would need to hire additional teachers and paraprofessionals, and the number of students per classroom would increase.

l Purchase or lease a portable building, either at Prairie Elementary or at WMS.

Purchasing a portable building outright would cost $695,000, plus the addition of voice, data and video low voltage work, site work and other fees.

If a portable building were leased, it would cost $230,000 for delivery, installation and set-up, with an additional rental fee of $12,800 a month on a yearly basis.


l Add eight classrooms to Prairie Elementary. This would cost approximately $4.2 million, with a potential additional cost due to mechanical changes and additions.

l Add eight classrooms to WMS at the cost of approximately $3.3 million.

l Purchase and remodel some other building in the community. Currently no building has been specifically suggested, so no cost estimates are available.

The estimated cost to the taxpayer for any of the options, in the worst-case scenario, would be about $95 for the owner of property valued at $100,000, Landgaard said.

The district must consider a number of factors, including a potential loss of Title I funding for fifth-graders if they moved to WMS, special programming needs including English Language Learners support, the Newcomers program, music, physical education, library and computer programming for fifth-graders. The school would also need to discuss storage for student programming, space for specialist teachers and possible changes in Prairie's lunch schedule.

Busing and custodial costs increase under every option under consideration, except for adding to the middle school. Food service costs would increase under every option under consideration except adding to the middle school, although adding on to Prairie may also not see an increased food service cost. Secretarial and administrative costs would increase under all options other than adding to Prairie or WMS.

Other unpredictable factors under consideration are the closing of any neighboring school district, the shifting demographics of open enrollment, businesses relocating to or away from Worthington and the birth rate.

"When you look at this, you want to make sure you're considering students first, and then making the overall best decision for the district," Landgaard said, emphasizing the need to put students first.


People who attended the meeting had many questions, largely regarding the possibility of moving fifth grade to WMS.

Other districts whose middle school includes fifth- through eighth-graders are Sartell and Redwood Falls, and some districts have kindergarten through 12th grade in a single building.

Some people were concerned about fifth-graders interacting with eighth-graders and potential negative consequences.

Currently, Landgaard said, sixth-graders do not interact a great deal with seventh- and eighth-graders, and fifth grade could be managed in a similar way.

Sixth-grade classrooms are located on one side of the building, and typically sixth-graders do not leave that area except for lunch and physical education, said WMS principal Jeff Luke. Most hallway disciplinary problems that occur in the middle school take place between students in the same grade. Other issues sometimes transpire before school starts, when it's the student's decision where he or she goes and what path he or she takes.

People were also concerned about scheduling sufficient math and reading time for fifth-graders and having additional parking and congestion during drop off and pick up time at WMS, which is already congested.

Several people supported the idea of purchasing a portable temporary structure, allowing the district a more time to make a more permanent decision.

Should the school board choose any of the building or purchasing options, the changes could be in effect, at the earliest, at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

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