State shutdown affects school building project

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2011 - 10:19 PM

Plans for Wildwood Elementary School can't proceed until they're approved by state inspectors, who have been laid off.

The opening of the new Wildwood Elementary, after clearing several hurdles, may be delayed again due to the state government shutdown, Mahtomedi's superintendent said.

"This has been an emotional roller coaster," Mark Larson said. "You're riding high with the permit, and then the state shuts down. We take two steps forward and then one step back."

Several inspectors the district must depend upon to approve construction work on the school were laid off with the government shutdown.

The district is planning to move 600 students from the current Wildwood Elementary into the new building in Grant, Minn., by the fall of 2012.

The site's groundbreaking ceremony already was postponed once after several Grant residents protested against the project, with some arguing the school would be too close to an old toxic dump site.

Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, the school could open as much as four months later than expected, in January 2012, Larson said.

It would be difficult to move students to a new school in the middle of a school year, Larson said, but he doesn't want to rush construction.

"May end up being that, if you can't open the school by September, the day after Labor Day, then we will have to wait and tell the construction crew to 'take your time to get it right,'" Larson said.

The shutdown also could affect remodeling of locker rooms and several science labs at the district's high school, Larson said.

"We're OK in a fairly short shutdown," he said. "If it goes a couple of weeks or into a month, we'd be in trouble."

Other controversies

From the start, the building of Wildwood Elementary has been mired in controversy.

Some Grant residents raised concerns about the effect toxic fumes from the old dump site might have on students. Others suggested the school would cause traffic jams on nearby roadways.

Proponents of the Gateway Trail, which gets heavy use from walkers, joggers and cyclists, say a school bus road that would cross the trail would invite tragedy.

That dispute was resolved last month when the Grant City Council voted 3-2 to allow the school's construction to proceed.

The district now has to get its construction plans approved by state inspectors.

Larson said he had planned to hold a groundbreaking ceremony toward the end of this summer but has put off those plans.

"We just want to get this thing done right," Larson said. "We want to have a groundbreaking and have a celebration in the community that it's going to be a great school for those amazing kids."

If the school's opening is postponed, the district will keep students in the existing Wildwood Elementary and transfer students in January 2012, Larson said.

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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