'Already full,' 3 Minneapolis schools poised to expand

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2011 - 10:44 AM

Minneapolis superintendent wants construction to begin as early as next summer. The cost: $27 million.

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Minneapolis schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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To cope with surging enrollments in areas of the city, the Minneapolis school board will consider spending more than $27 million to expand three elementary schools.

By 2013, district leaders expect the number of students to exceed capacity at Lake Harriet Lower Campus, Lake Nokomis Keewaydin Campus and Pratt Community School. The district has $32 million from its deferred maintenance fund available to cover the projects, which could run as high as $16 million at Lake Nokomis and $11 million at Lake Harriet.

The district would add permanent classrooms to both schools, alleviating crowding and ridding Harriet of the portable classrooms that teachers and students have used for two decades.

Cost estimates for renovations at Pratt are not yet available.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson will ask the board Tuesday to allow architects to begin design work, enabling construction to begin as early as next summer.

Administrators would like to complete work at Nokomis-Keewaydin by summer 2013 and at Harriet Lower the following spring.

"The schools are already full," district spokesman Stan Alleyne said. "It would be a significant problem if we didn't do something."

The need for more classrooms has arisen as more families in south and southwest Minneapolis opt for neighborhood schools. Administrators shuffled programs in the spring to clear space this fall for five new kindergarten classrooms, four in southwest Minneapolis.

"We do have some enrollment challenges," school board member Richard Mammen said. "The money is available and we should move on it."

Even a $11 million expansion may not address long-term enrollment concerns at Lake Harriet, where some parents have made pleas for a new building, not just an addition.

Caroline Cochran, a mother of three Lake Harriet students and a 2-year-old, has attended the last three school board meetings, presenting petitions and encouraging the school board to "take a long-term view" on enrollment.

Cochran said she's concerned that the district will once again shift school attendance boundaries, as it did two years ago with Changing School Options. That forced some families to choose new schools and prompted some to leave the district altogether.

Cochran's petition calls for maintaining Lake Harriet's current boundaries and K-8 grade configuration.

Studies commissioned by the district found the most pressing expansion needs at Lake Harriet, Lake Nokomis and Pratt. To address needs in other parts of the city, the Minneapolis schools will begin allotting up to $50 million per year for renovations at other district buildings.

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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