Anoka-Hennepin hosts referendum meetings as early voting begins

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Anoka-Hennepin district leaders finished up a round of community meetings on the upcoming referendum Sept. 26.

Early voting started Sept. 22, and voters have until Election Day, Nov. 7, to decide on two referendum questions.

The first question asks for an increase to general education revenue by $226.20 per pupil annually for 10 years, approximately $9.5 million each year, with authorization to increase annually by the rate of inflation.

The money would provide operating expenses for new schools and keep class sizes low.

The second question requests $249 million to construct and renovate buildings to address safety, space and maintenance needs.

The second question is contingent on the first passing.

The total tax impact of both questions is $11 a month for the average $200,000 homeowner in the district. A tax calculator is available at www.bit.ly/2k1TD2n.

Referendum projects

If voters say yes to both, new schools would be built in Blaine and Ramsey to accommodate growth in the northern portion of the school district.

Both schools would be modeled after Oxbow Creek and Rum River elementary schools. Two-story buildings would have capacity for approximately 1,000 students each.

The Blaine school would be located on 38 acres at 125th Avenue and Lever Street. The Ramsey school would be located on 38 acres at 170th Street and Nowthen Boulevard. Each would be 135,000 square feet and cost approximately $35.4 million to build.

Additions would be made to all five traditional high schools in the district and two district middle schools. Three elementary schools have portable classrooms, and exactly what improvements will be made at the schools to eliminate portables are still being determined.

Andover cluster

Andover High School would see a 67,000-square-foot addition to bring the school’s capacity from 1,400 students to 2,000 students. Currently, about 1,750 attend the school, with hundreds of students utilizing 12 portable classrooms daily.

About 20 percent of the student body is in portables at any given time, according to Principal Becky Brodeur.

A community task force formed in 2016 to study facilities needs recommended all of the district’s 62 portable classrooms be removed with security risks – one of nine recommendations.

The addition comes with a $29.4 million price tag and would create new classroom areas with space for group learning, collaboration, staff planning and more.

The school’s auditorium, cafeteria, gym and strength/fitness room would all be expanded.

“Our cafeteria is really undersized,” Brodeur said. “We’re very crowded. Some students choose to eat on the floor kind of outside of the regular cafeteria space.”

Anoka cluster

Anoka High School would gain a 43,000-square-foot addition and see modifications to another 14,000 square feet in the school to adequately accommodate its 2,300 students.

The school currently utilizes six portable classrooms, and those would be eliminated.

“When we lock down, we still have large groups of kids that are disconnected outside the building,” Principal Mike Farley said.

Offices would be relocated to improve security.

The cafeteria, which is 40 percent too small, would be expanded, as would the field house, music space and the strength/fitness room. New classrooms, staff planning space and a dance studio would also be part of the work, estimated to cost $20.4 million.

Both of Anoka Middle School for the Arts’ campuses would see additions – 29,000 square feet at the Fred Moore campus and 23,000 square feet at the Washington campus.

The Fred Moore campus would see new classrooms, an upstairs cafeteria and a new connection with the community pool for $18.2 million.

Security upgrades would bring the school’s entrance and main office closer together.

“Currently you walk down two main hallways past several classrooms before you even get to the main office,” Principal Jerri McGonigal said.

Six portable classrooms would be eliminated at the Washington campus. New classrooms and music space and expansions to the cafeteria and gym would cost $9.3 million.

Blaine cluster

Blaine High School has 10 portable classrooms with nearly 3,000 students in a space designed for 2,400.

“Even with the portable classrooms, we are still over capacity,” Principal Jason Paske said.

The portables would be removed with a 58,500-square-foot addition and modifications to an additional 14,000 square feet planned.

Approximately $26.7 million in projects are planned at the high school, including new classrooms and special education spaces, as well as staff planning spaces and a dance studio.

The cafeteria, also 40 percent too small, would be expanded, as would the field house and strength/fitness space.

Also in the Blaine cluster, Madison, McKinley and Sand Creek elementary schools all have portable classrooms. Madison has one and McKinley and Sand Creek each have two.

“We have an entire class of third-graders that are not with their grade level,” Sand Creek Principal Paul Anderson said. “The building itself is in need of repair. We have critters that have lived under this portable. Inside the portable, it’s not a level floor.”

Champlin Park cluster

Champlin Park High School and its feeder middle school nearby both have portable classrooms: The high school has 12, and Jackson Middle School has 14.

“During passing time, we have to leave those doors unsecured so kids can move from within the building into the portable classrooms,” JMS Principal Tom Hagerty said.

Those would be removed with a 38,400-square-foot addition and modifications to another 9.800 square feet at CPHS, as well as a 57,700-square-foot addition at Champlin Brooklyn Park Academy, an elementary school, which would allow Jackson to reclaim space in the building it shares with CBPA.

CPHS would see new classrooms and staff planning space. New music storage and a scene shop to support the performing arts are also planned.

Zoning doors would secure activities spaces after the school day.

The strength/fitness room would be expanded.

All projects are estimated to cost $16.4 million.

Work to add classroom space, a media center and a gym and to expand the cafeteria at CBPA would cost $24.9 million.

Coon Rapids cluster

Entrances at Coon Rapids High School would be modified to enhance security and keep activities spaces separate from academic spaces for after-hours security.

“We don’t have a large gathering space,” Principal Annette Ziegler said. “When you walk into our school, you walk into a wall. It’s not very welcoming, and it’s not secure for our evening functions.”

A 19,500-square-foot addition, including new classrooms and an expanded cafeteria and strength/fitness room, would be built with improvements to another 32,600 square feet planned. Windows also need to be replaced. The price tag for CRHS projects is estimated at $13 million.
Additionally $11.1 million has been allocated for additions and improvements to River Trail Learning Center in Coon Rapids, which serves the district’s highest-need special education population. Additional classrooms and program space, security improvements and an expanded cafeteria are planned.

Another $6.4 million will improve and maintain other schools throughout the district, $1.9 million of that for special education spaces.

Community meetings

Five community meetings Sept. 19-26 drew hundreds of residents and staff.

“I’m just trying to get more information,” said Jason Keeton, who has five children. “Sod farms are going away and more houses are coming in.”

Keeton and a number of other parents were interested to hear more about how school boundaries might change, but those decisions have not yet been made.

Board members have been dropping by parent-teacher organization meetings, and district leaders will be meeting with the Anoka and Coon Rapids Kiwanis clubs, Anoka Senior Caucus and Realife Cooperative-Anoka in the coming weeks. A special presentation for the Hmong- and Spanish-speaking communities is planned for Oct. 4.

“If there is a community organization … that would like us to come out and speak, you’re more than welcome to reach out to us,” said Kay Villella, assistant director of community and public relations.

The Fit for the Future referendum hotline is 763-506-3383.

Early voting is underway. Residents of both Anoka and Hennepin counties can vote early in Anoka County. No reason is required. For more information, visit www.bit.ly/2wUl7rO.

Election Day is Nov. 7. To find your polling place, visit www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

A-HREFERENDUM1: Community members drop by Blaine High School Sept. 19 to learn about the upcoming Anoka-Hennepin referendum vote. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)

A-HREFERENDUM2: Anoka-Hennepin Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden leaders community members on a tour of Blaine High School, pointing out work that will be done if two referendum questions pass Nov. 7. (Photo by Olivia Alveshere)