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Round Lake-Brewster plans building addition

The Brewster School District is discussing an addition onto its school building. (Tim Middagh / The Globe )

BREWSTER — Experiencing a positive student enrollment trend for nearly the last decade, the Round Lake-Brewster School District is looking to add on to its elementary/middle school building in Brewster.

Finite details are still being decided, but the RL-B Board of Education’s ultimate goal is to add four new classrooms, a gymnasium, elevator, office space, ADA-compliant hallway and safe school entrance onto the front of its school at 915 Fourth Ave., in Brewster.

The district’s current student enrollment of 349 students represents more than a 50-student increase from last year.

Current cost estimates put the addition at just over $2 million, or nearly $2.6 million if the board decides to initially forgo construction of the office and add that at a later date. The latter project would result in an approximately $140,000 annual payment from the district’s general fund revenues for the next 15 years, RL-B Superintendent Ray Hassing told board members during a meeting earlier this week.

The cost, Hassing said, is higher than they had initially anticipated when they started the project. Calling a new gymnasium and elevator the priorities on the list — Hassing said they’d get completed no matter what — the board needs to decide how to finance the construction.

Hassing said the board is trying to do the project without a bond referendum, and called the district’s general fund balance “strong.”

“But to take on an additional 15 years of revenue payments from our general fund — that’s my concern,” he said. A request seeking information on the amount of money the district currently has in its fund balance was not provided to The Globe before its Friday press deadline.

With cost estimates higher than anticipated, Hassing presented the idea of a bond referendum during a meeting of the school board earlier this week.

“We’re doing great things here,” Hassing told board members. “Our enrollment numbers support it, the families we have and the staff we have … but you never know.”

No financial decisions were made during the meeting, but Hassing said it was something members should consider.

While the timeline would be tight, should the board decide to ask the public to approve a bond referendum, the earliest a public vote could be conducted is in May, Hassing said.

The proposed building addition isn’t the only thing the school district has done recently to address its space issues amid growing student enrollment.

Over the summer, the third level of the school received extensive renovations so students could occupy those classrooms as well. The last time students used the building’s third level, Hassing said, was in 1985. It had been used for storage until last fall.

According to Hassing, the district has gained an average of 20 students each school year for the past nine years, but more than 50 students between the present school year and when last year’s student enrollment data was reported by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Hassing said there continues to be an influx of students into R-LB who reside in the Worthington School District. RL-B offers classes in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

A request seeking information on how many District 518-resident students are open-enrolling into the RL-B school district was also not provided by presstime. However, 2017-18 RL-B student enrollment indicated 171 students, or approximately 56 percent of last year’s total student body, was comprised of students that live within District 518 and open enroll into RL-B.

“We offer a quality core curriculum for elementary and middle school students that families like because we can give their students one-to-one attention and can have constant feedback with families,” Hassing said, attributing that to the district’s continued rise in enrollment.

This year is the second consecutive year the RL-B school district has surpassed Worthington as the most diverse student body in the county. According to student data reported on the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) Report Card — and also provided by Nobles County Integration Collaborative Coordinator Soom Chandaswang — non-caucasian students represent 71.8 percent of the RL-B student body this year. The next most diversely-populated student body in the county is District 518 in Worthington, which shows that 66.6 percent of its student body is comprised of non-caucasian students. The percentages are based on each district’s student enrollment, not physical numbers.

With continued student growth, Hassing said the district is also operating at the smallest square footage per student, per capita compared to all schools within the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative. The district is currently operating at 154.5 square feet per student, which doesn’t factor in its preschool students or tuition agreement students. The Worthington School District, which faces its own space shortage, operates at 158.8 square feet per student, Hassing said.

There are a number of things Hassing said the RL-B school district is doing well, including recently being recognized by MDE for progress in math and reading among its EL students, as well as reading progress among all students.

One of the things Hassing said the district believes in is offering voluntary pre-kindergarten and school readiness for 4 year olds. Now in its eighth year of its preschool program, the district offers 60 preschool slots to families, many of which take advantage of the program and continue to enroll their students at the district beyond preschool, Hassing said.

“It’s very well supported and a great program,” he added.

Hassing said he’s thankful the district continues to grow despite what seems to be the norm of declining enrollment among smaller districts.

“To have the potential to grow is very fortunate I would say, and we’re very thankful for that,” he said. “We have a good thing going and want to keep it going.”

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