Community Alert

Northfield School District Referendum

Students eat lunch in a crowded cafeteria at Sibley Elementary. With passage of the Northfield School District referendum, Sibley will get a new cafeteria, Bridgewater will get a new secure entrance, and Greenvale will get a new building, while the early education program moves into the old one. (Philip Weyhe/Northfield News)

In 2017, after asking voters to approve funding for a $109 million buildings project, Northfield School District received a resounding “No.” They were tasked with offering up something different.

Apparently voters appreciated the district’s response, as a cut down $41 million version of the buildings project received strong approval Tuesday.

District voters said ‘Yes’ to the public schools referendum, which means a plan to build a new Greenvale Park Elementary building and replace the current one with early education programming will move forward. The vote was 62 percent in favor to 38 percent against, according to unofficial results posted by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office Tuesday night.

In addition to the changes at the Greenvale site, the referendum approval makes way for smaller improvements at Bridgewater Elementary, Sibley Elementary, Longfellow and Northfield High schools.

“We are honored by the faith our voters continually demonstrate in the district,” Superintendent Matt Hillmann said. “We will continue to be good stewards of our community’s tax dollars to support students through improved and more secure facilities.””

After the 2017 referendum, many voters told district leaders that the expected tax impact of the $109 million request was simply too high.

A community action team indicated a referendum without the high school — just elementary and early education — was more palatable. The board later heard from about 400 district voters in an online survey that there was support for the elementary/early education project, but that the tax impact would again be the major obstacle.

It is the district’s belief that providing the best possible facilities for elementary and preschool students can make a major impact all the way through the system.

“I think Northfielders understand that if you can give kids a solid foundation before they get to middle school, you can really give them an advantage,” Hillmann said. “If students aren’t ready for kindergarten, it makes things that much harder. We want to make sure we support families.”

The majority of the $41 million project cost is for the new Greenvale Park Elementary ($27 million), replacing the original building, which was constructed in 1971. The open concept, which at the time was considered forward thinking, means Greenvale lacks space to provide the interventions and small group work many students need.

The new elementary school is expected to be two stories, taking up a smaller footprint than the current building and containing a mix of the large and small instructional spaces found in many modern schools. It will also have a fully secure entrance, currently lacking at Greenvale, and be built to hold 16 percent more students that will accommodate the district’s increasing enrollment.

The early education program, meanwhile, current maxed for space at Longfellow School, will move to a larger, more accommodating home in the current Greenvale building. This means programming and enrollment can be expanded, which is important for a district continuing to grow.

At Sibley, a new cafeteria at the building’s exterior will open up space for the media center and space around the school for various uses. And at Bridgewater, a new office space and secure entrance at the front of the building will open up opportunities for more flexible learning spaces.

Offices for district staff, currently at the high school, will move to Longfellow School, joining the Alternative Learning Center, which will continue to be housed on the top floor. The newly vacant space at the high school will provide opportunities for new flexible space.

The projects are expected to be completed in time for the 2020-21 school year. The School Board will likely discuss next steps at its Nov. 13 meeting.

Reach Associate Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-645-1115 or follow him on Twitter @nfnphilweyhe.

©Copyright 2018 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News and Le Sueur County News managing editor. Email at editor@stpeterherald.com. Call at 507-931-8567.

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