The South Washington County School District is still growing.
After building a new high school and redistricting several times to accommodate growth, the district's school board is now talking about expanding another elementary school to deal with even more anticipated growth.
"While it's a more difficult economy today than we've had in the past, I think there will be a change in the economy -- probably not quite the boom of the past, but more homes will be built in this district," Superintendent Mark Porter said.
The district's school board set in motion this month an expansion of Liberty Ridge Elementary's campus in Woodbury to be completed by next school year. It will involve purchasing and expanding a building near its campus to house kindergarten and preschool classes, at a cost of $4.5 million. The district currently is renting the building and will pay $2.9 million for the property. The expansion involves adding 12,500 square feet of classroom space.
Liberty Ridge Elementary's enrollment has climbed by 220 students over the past two years. With another housing development near the school in the planning stages, administrators predict the enrollment would exceed the existing school's capacity by 200 students by 2014.
At its Dec. 1 committee meeting, administrators proposed that the board either purchase and expand a facility on the school's campus or alter the school's attendance boundaries to reduce crowding.
To change the school's boundaries by next school year, administrators said the district would have to set in motion a rapid process of presenting alternative plans to the community and letting the public weigh in before the board votes.
"This one, to me, is very easy," said board member Jim Gelbmann, who was in support of changing the school's boundaries. "We need to use all of our facilities as efficiently and effectively as possible. When we have empty desks throughout the district, I can't see using additional taxpayer money ... for acquiring and building an existing site and building onto that site."
Other board members, though, said if the district can deal with the overcrowding without moving students, it should.
"We want to have the most minimal impact, especially when we're renting from someone else," said board member Laurie Johnson. "We'll always have a need for space, as we're always growing. This would be a good, solid investment with great financing options and the opportunity to stop paying rent and pay ourselves."
Administrators said they would pay the $4.5 million it will cost to expand the building with money from a 2006 bond referendum and an annual operating capital fund that the district uses to pay for building repairs and maintenance. Administrators said the expansion should be finished by the beginning of next school year.
"What we need to do is invest prudently in facilities and try not to be caught up in renting or leasing facilities," Porter said. "I think it is a good move for us to make."
Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib