REGIONAL – St. Louis County School Board members are expected to act Monday on a proposed expansion of the Cherry School. The board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday at the Cherry School.
Monday’s expected action follows a positive rating by the Minnesota Department of Education for the project.
The expansion, which will add nearly 10,000 feet and eight new classrooms, carries an estimated cost of nearly $3 million that would be funded through a special levy on district taxpayers. The tax (see tax table page 11) would be in effect for 15 years and the lease levy applies to both residential and seasonal-recreational property owners.
Some board members had proposed a smaller expansion, but School Board Chairman Robert Larson said most favored adding the eight classrooms, anticipating future growth at the school.
Meanwhile, board members are also expected to act on a recommendation to appoint the district’s Facilities and Maintenance Director Tom Cundy to oversee the project and ensure it remains on budget and meets the district’s standards. Cundy will also help oversee the bidding process for an architect and contractor for the project.
At a Nov. 25 study session, School Board Chairman Bob Larson lobbied to award the project to Johnson Controls Inc., saying the consultant had helped the district pass the bond referendum that approved the $78.8 million remodeling and construction project for the district. He praised the consultant’s work and said it deserved first chance at this new project.
But other board members indicated some issues with JCI and said the consultant could bid on the project like other contractors. The issue is likely to resurface at Monday’s board meeting.
Although Cherry was remodeled just a few short years ago, those plans were based on a top enrollment of 355, according to Randy Anderson a consultant with JCI, which oversaw the district’s restructuring project.
The school was remodeled as a single-section K-12 school and lost several classrooms when a new gym was included in the plans, but now has two sections in many of its elementary grades.
The space shortage has forced the school to use the media center and some storage rooms as classrooms. Some small rooms connecting classrooms that were intended for small group interactions and storage space are being used for special education classes.
JCI consultants originally proposed adding four classrooms but later issued a revised plan to add six classrooms. Some board members, however, were concerned if the expansion would be large enough.
Early Childhood and Family Education Director DaNeil Sirjord pointed out at an Aug. 30 study session that with more than 40 kindergarteners enrolled at Cherry, the school was on the margin for adding a third section of kindergarten. That, in turn, would eliminate an ECFE classroom.
The latest enrollment numbers show 452 students enrolled at the Cherry School this year, up from an enrollment of 398 at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Revised projections prior to the school year had pegged enrollment at Cherry as high as 473.
Part of the increase is attributed to a growing number of students who are leaving neighboring districts to open-enroll at Cherry. But the school is also recapturing students who are residents of ISD 2142 and used to open-enroll in other districts.
According to Kristen Cooper, dean of students at Cherry, more than 50 percent of the increase in enrollment is from families who live within the district who previously open-enrolled students in other schools or have recently moved into the region. South Ridge is also seeing some students who had previously open-enrolled outside the district return to ISD 2142.