District 279 prepares to reopen Osseo Elementary

School board expects to save money by moving an expanded version of the ACHIEVE program to the site

After sitting unoccupied for five years, Osseo Elementary will reopen next week to continue it’s long history of serving students in the Osseo School District.

Osseo Elementary is expected to reopen this school year as the Osseo Education Center. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Osseo Elementary is expected to reopen this school year as the Osseo Education Center. (Sun Post staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Following a summer of maintenance and renovations at the building, the district hopes to have it ready when teachers return from summer break Monday, Aug. 26.

Instead of being an elementary school, however, the building is expected to open as the “Osseo Education Center,” and will house the district’s ACHIEVE special education program, formerly housed at a leased property at 7600 Boone Ave. N. in Brooklyn Park. The ACHIEVE program serves students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

The ACHIEVE program will be able to expand thanks to the new space. It previously served students ages 14-21, but will now serve elementary students as well.

The district had planned to move the Osseo Area Learning Center, an alternative high school, into the space, but the Osseo City Council objected.

The school district purchased the Osseo Elementary property in 1953 and built the school the following year. Additions were added in 1957, 1987 and 2005. The school’s new name was expected to be approved at the Aug. 20 school board meeting.

Despite initial capital costs for building improvements, moving the ACHIEVE program into the former elementary school is expected to save the district approximately $674,000 a year.

Approximately $338,000 of the annual savings will result from the termination of leases at two buildings in Brooklyn Park.

Nearly $110,000 of the savings was expected to come from eliminating operating and utilities expenses at the current leased facilities. But that estimate did not yet account for the increased cost of utilities at the Osseo Elementary site.

The other $226,000 of the expected savings comes from expanding the ACHIEVE program. In the past, the district referred students under age 13 who needed similar services to Intermediate District 287. The Osseo School District pays tuition for each student it sends to District 287. By keeping those students in a program within the Osseo district, staff expect a net savings.

“We value educating kids in our own community,” Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf said. “And because we already had the ACHIEVE program, we’ll realize some efficiencies. We already had some of the supports in place.”

During the past two summers, the building has undergone extensive renovations. Last summer, the district replaced the roof. This year, extensive interior work was done.

“We’ve essentially replaced all the finishes,” said Dale Carlstrom, director of facilities, transportation and operations. “We’ve replaced all the ceilings, all the floors.”

Crews also rewired electrical systems and replaced the original boiler. They created two adjoining art rooms and tailored each classroom to the age group that will use it. Classrooms also have new technology. Instead of chalkboards, they have projectors.

ACHIEVE Program Coordinator Angela VanHee said the building now has a hybrid classroom-studio apartment used to teach students independent living skills.

Someone re-entering the building might not recognize the inside.

“It would look a lot different, in the classroom especially,” said Dale Carlstrom, director of facilities, transportation and operations.

VanHee said she is looking forward to using the new space.

“I am very excited about the work that has been done to allow us to move to the Osseo Education Center,” VanHee said.

Although she was grateful to have the leased space, she said, students were “greatly restricted in being able to be outside of the classroom spaces.”

“We didn’t have a cafeteria or appropriate gym space to provide students with opportunities that other students are able to experience,” she said. “The staff and students are very excited to be able to start a new phase in the life of the program and have the experiences students have missed most when they came to the program.”

According to Carlstrom, the whole project cost nearly $830,000.

Even though the building will open to students at the beginning of the school year, some work, such as getting the new boiler in working order before winter, will continue after school starts.