School board weighs options for community ed building

District 518 will hold a public meeting March 8 before board members vote on how to proceed.

district 518 brown house
District 518's administration building in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON — Members of the District 518 school board spent most of a nearly two-hour work session Tuesday night discussing several options regarding the plans for the new community education building.

Former Shopko building

The most urgent decision the board needs to make is whether it wants to reconsider purchasing the Shopko building, Superintendent John Landgaard said. The building is still for sale, but if the district wants it, it needs to change course before the building plans are finalized.

Landgaard told the board that according to an unofficial number from the city, if the Shopko building were to become an educational building, it would cost the city about $40,000 annually in sales tax — which the city currently is missing out on anyway, since Shopko closed.

"Sharon (Johnson, community education director), you really caught my attention last week," board member Adam Blume said.

He confirmed that if the programs are to be housed in the building as it's planned now, then there isn't enough space to grow. That's why he thinks it makes sense to take another look at Shopko before moving forward.


"It has everything we need plus more for the future," he said. "I know it's affordable (to build new on district land), but how is it feasible to build a building that's basically too small already?"

"I kind of agree with Adam," said board member Mike Harberts. Neither was necessarily advocating for purchasing Shopko, but suggesting that the board give it another look.

Board member Steve Schnieder disagreed. While he doesn't oppose Shopko as a site, he said he doesn't want to move forward in a direction that isn't supported by the city or the public. Board members Lori Dudley and Joel Lorenz supported this view as well, both adding that they had heard feedback from the community that they shouldn't purchase Shopko.

Board member Brad Shaffer also said he does not support buying the Shopko building.

Blume and Harberts both noted that the Shopko building would be a lot cheaper per square foot, and it would have enough space to include everything the district needs. They suggested meeting with city representatives and trying to come to a compromise.

Whatever they decide, Harberts added, the public needs to have a voice.

Potential additions

Last week at the regular school board meeting, Sal Bagley from Wold, the architect on the project, explained that within the constraints of the land, it is possible to add six more classrooms to the new community education building — either on the west side of the building or by adding a second floor. It's also possible to include offices for the teaching and learning department, the special education department and the district office; all three are currently omitted from the building plan.

Bagley came to Tuesday's work session with schematics and price estimates for these options.


To add six more classrooms at a total of 8,500 square feet would cost an estimated $2.77 million. To add all of the needed office space at a total of 10,000 square feet (4,500 for teaching and learning, 2,000 for special ed and 3,500 for the district office) would cost an estimated $3.1 million. Including all of those additions would be a total of $5.78 million, on top of the planned $15 million budget.

After some discussion, the board seemed to favor including at least some of the additional options.

"As long as we're doing this project, let's build it right," said board member Tom Prins. "Do we just build toward our budget, or do we build to our needs?"

Schnieder agreed, pointing out that construction costs are only going to get more expensive, so it's cheaper to make additions now than a decade down the road.

"I'd rather spend a little bit more now," he said.

Harberts also favored this point of view.

"I know we're trying to build this $15 million facility to budget, and that's the wrong way to do it," he said. "We need to do it right up front."

Administrators also weighed in. Landgaard said he thinks the district office belongs in the downtown area. Director of Teaching and Learning Katie Clarke said that her department needs its offices within grade-level district buildings, because they need to be accessible to community members and they make visits to all the different schools.


While there was no formal vote at the work session, board members came to a consensus that they are comfortable raising the budget to $17.5 million in order to add four (instead of six) more classrooms, but didn't favor including any of the additional offices.

Again, Harberts emphasized that the board needs to ask the public before voting.

Prins also wanted to know, "How are we going to pay for it?"

There are few options, Landgaard explained. $15 million is already in an assigned account for the project. The board could move additional monies from the general fund. Also, the intermediate school is about $2.5 million under budget, so the board could use those left over funds to make up the difference.

District 518 will host a public meeting at 7 p.m. March 8 at the West Elementary building (117 11th Ave.) to help inform the community about ongoing plans.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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