Anoka school buildings find second lives

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2012 - 10:21 PM

Several properties are being refurbished or are being sold.


Champlin Elementary School.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The Anoka-Hennepin School District is continuing a series of moves that began when the school board decided in 2009 to close eight schools in response to dropping enrollment.

Nearly all of those buildings have been repurposed for school district programs. Champlin Elementary School is for sale; so is the Hanson Boulevard building that the administration has occupied since 1977.

The former Sandburg Middle School in Anoka is becoming more of a community hub, with three gymnasiums and community education classrooms on the first floor and meeting spaces planned for the third floor.

On Monday, the school board will vote on a contract to continue that third-floor renovation, estimated at $5 million over three years, to create a new board room and expansive meeting areas for large-scale gatherings and trainings.

"That school was in such fantastic condition and we didn't want to just board it up," said Chuck Holden, the district's chief operating officer. "The school board was pretty clear about that."

Overall, the changes consolidate staff, streamline operations and offer long-term savings in rent, utilities and travel, Holden said. During growth periods, the district has leased space for many of its nontraditional programs, including adult basic education, the alternative high school, early childhood programs and others. Taken together, the moves will save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in leasing costs.

This summer, Superintendent Dennis Carlson and his associates and the communications, benefits, accounting and other staff departments will move to a district building on N. Ferry Street known as the Learning Center and Distribution Center (LCDC). The move cuts the distance between two administration buildings from 5 miles to 1, saving trips that administrative staff take as often as 10 times a week, Holden said.

The move and remodeling of the LCDC building will cost about $740,000.

Perhaps the most exciting move is the shift for about 80 early childhood and special education staff members from cramped, windowless spaces in the Ferry Street building to the refurbished Sandburg Middle School, just off Main Street in downtown Anoka. Staff and students already have moved to their new second-floor classrooms with gleaming wood floors and huge windows.

Melissa Hayes, special education program supervisor, said the space allows staff members to spread out a bit, but still offers more space to collaborate. There also are designated areas for testing and evaluation.

The Sandburg building, constructed in 1904 as the district's first high school, was a beautiful example of turn-of-the-last-century school architecture, Holden said. Furniture and supplies were distributed to other schools.

The overhaul offered an opportunity to restore the archways to their original shape and maintained the cross-cut oak woodwork and granite pillars. A nearby elevator makes the building accessible to all.

Hayes said her staff, looking forward to the remaining work, can tolerate some disruption.

"Everyone's so happy to be here it's not going to matter if we hear hammers above us," she said.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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