Board to vote Monday on Cherry expansion
Tom Klein

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.

Unexpected growth

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.

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15 comments on this item

Alright! The stage is set. Will this school board set Bobby Boy Larson and his JCI public relations agency (Cook News-Herald) on their heels and vote against JCI having anything to do with this project? Let's see.

The other problem is that Tom Cundy might be owned by JCI also! He has had JCI do much of his regular steam maintenance in the schools - no questions asked. They just tell them what they repaired and send the school district the bill. My point - Having Tom Cundy oversee the project is not much better than having JCI watching over themselves!

Good point Steve. But if JCI is cut out of the deal, what will that do to Cundy? Frankly, we have civil engineers, accountants, contract administrators and business people throughout the district that may well work for a small fee to see to it that any money that is spent on this needless, useless Cherry school project is legit. However, you can be sure that Bobby Boy, Albertson and Kim Johnson would not relish a citizens task force to oversee the project. We may just see where the personal riches and rewards are be bequeathed.

My real concern is that yes, the increase in enrollment is good for the school district for revenue. But statistics say that families are still getting smaller. My recommendation would be to keep the enrollment at its current level and have a waiting list. This would be something unfamiliar to any school district up here. Adding more debt after the previous boondoggle would not be good. I believe enrollment will slowly decrease through the years. I also do not believe that the current school board has the qualifications to make a decision at this level. In fact, there aren't many who do. Whenever I talked to previous school district employees their comments were always to the tune of "If they would only run it like a business"! So my point is although business is really good right now don't overbuild and have that outstanding debt. If enrollment keeps at the current demand for a couple of years then yes, let's look at expansion. But just because they are over for a year and a half I don't think we should expand. Look at the numbers - the levy would be in effect for 15 years!

I take it Bob Larson doesn't read the Timberjay or the Duluth News Herald. If he did he wouldn't even consider JCI for the expansion. I don.t think the Hermantown school district will be so uninformed.

There is another study session today. I'm sure some discussion on the needless, useless Cherry school expansion will come up. The district may have bigger maybe not able to pay their bills?

Let Cherry residents pay for their expansion 100%. Tower area residents have paid much more than their fair share and gotten the least. I wouldn't hire JCI to change a light bulb. Isn't one definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result? Enough JCI already! Hire someone else, get bids and make sure to put the proper disclosure language in the contract this time!

Let Cherry residents pay for their expansion 100%. Tower area residents have paid much more than their fair share and gotten the least. I wouldn't hire JCI to change a light bulb. Isn't one definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result? Enough JCI already! Hire someone else, get bids and make sure to put the proper disclosure language in the contract this time!

I wouldn't hire JCI to change a light bulb. Has the board not learned a lesson? One definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, yet expecting a different result. I recommend that Cherry finance their expansion 100%. The Tower area has paid for the majority of this boondoggle even though we voted AGAINST IT and received the least. Including being punished for our resounding NO vote by having part of our high school and the swimming pool destroyed out of spite. No more money to JCI!

hard rock, you bring up some points with which I agree. Jake, you bring up a point I communicated to the board about 3 months enrollment is a fickle figure and student figures can change even by the month. Adding physical plant in a state of euphoria is a foolish thing to do.

the sav, you want to know why Bobby Boy Larson is pushing JCI even though the residents oppose it. Plant someone outside his home this December. Count how many UPS, FedEx and Speedee trucks stop by his home this December. Compare that to how many stop at his neighbors homes and your own. I worked in purchasing departments for years, and for bosses who seemed to live above their means. If Bobby Boy is enjoying lavish dinners at fine supper clubs and you wonder why you can't, well, you can connect the dots.

Great news! Johnson Controls was denied a contract by the school board on a 4-3 vote. Those voting to deny were Nancy Wall Glowaski, Troy Swanson, Jody Feist and Lynette Zupetz. Please call them and thank them. Bobby Boy Larson, Chet Larson and Gary Rantala vigorously supported Johnson Controls and voted to keep them. Let them know how you feel, since they refused to respond to public opinion on JCI.

There must be 4 seats up for re-election. Glad they did the right thing.

Should we be concerned that Architectural Resources got the job? After all, they are sleeping in the same bed as JCI aren't they?

We should be concerned with anybody the school district hires, especially when big piles of money are involved. Cundy will have to recognize early on if the job is too big for him, report it to the board so they can begin a search for a qualified project manager, sans JCI and the Cook News-Herald.

I worked on a federal project a few years ago. My employer hired a general contractor for a 500K job that required a few sub-contractors. My employer craftily wrote the contract so his company would benefit financially by acting as the as the project manager. A project mgr. was not necessary as that work was the responsibility of the general. I called the Dept. Of Housing and Urban Development ( financing the project)and gave them a heads up. They removed the project manager double dipping language from the contract. My boss never knew I did that behind his back. HUD never would have read the fine print. Spending 78 million on the 2142 fiasco was way above the abilities of the school board. Remove them all. We need a do-over.

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