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Second-story WHS building addition gains traction

WORTHINGTON — Up is the direction the Independent School District 518 Board of Education Operations Committee is looking toward to address an anticipated spike of students at the high school.

The committee will recommend construction of an estimated $4 million second-story addition at the high school in order to facilitate for a grade 9-12 student population of 1,100 expected in the next few years. Pending full board approval during its Tuesday meeting, the design and planning phase will begin with the intent for bidding in December.

The preliminary proposal is anticipated to add around five classrooms that would facilitate at least an additional 100 students on the second story of the classroom addition, which was constructed in 2015 to the northwest portion of the building.

The recommendation came after discussion among the committee’s three board members and Superintendent John Landgaard.

“I don’t believe you can wait (for a referendum),” Landgaard said, given what the district’s projected enrollment indicates. “As board members you’ve committed to that being the high school, so my theory is let's get started and moving forward.”

The most recent enrollment report shared at the March board meeting indicated there are currently 996 students at the high school and 990 at the middle school.

Landgaard said the district is experiencing between five to eight new enrollments per week. He said the freshman class — which had 280 students at the beginning of the school year — now has an enrollment of 327 students.

“I want to be very clear — everybody wants to believe it’s our diverse population moving in,” he said. “It’s not. It’s all kids.”

Landgaard said the board needs to make a decision soon in order for construction to begin in spring 2020, as it will likely require a change to the upcoming 2019-2020 school year calendar that has already been approved.

“We’d potentially do a mid-August start and get out in May to try and minimize the disruption to the education in the high school students,” he said. “We’re still going to run into (construction and school in session) overlap, but I’d like to get ahead of that.”

Current Minnesota state statute doesn’t allow school districts to begin before Labor Day unless meeting one of few exceptions. A construction or remodeling project of more than $400,000 is one of those exceptions.

The committee briefly discussed funding options. It may decide to utilize a lease levy or general fund to accomplish the project, although that decision likely won’t be made until later.

The project is the least expensive of three high school addition variations that the district’s consultant had researched. Other projects could have included a cafeteria and repurpose existing space ($11 million) and a gymnasium ($30 million) in addition to the extra classrooms.

Operations Committee member Mike Harberts questioned if the cafeteria is at maximum capacity. Landgaard said it’s tight how it is, but schedule adjustments could potentially be made to alleviate some of the pressure.

“If you go down that road (adding a cafeteria) you’re maybe not dealing with community education space that needs to be dealt with without putting either (community ed) or (high school addition) on a referendum question,” Landgaard added.

The committee discussed and requested further information regarding if the project could be designed for completion in phases.

Further discussion and potential action is anticipated to occur during the board’s 5:15 p.m. April 16 board meeting in the WHS Media Center.