West St. Paul schools ask voters to help ease space crunch, boost security and tech

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2014 - 2:00 PM

The district seeks the renewal of a $1.7 million operating levy for technology and $11.2 million bond to build an early childhood center and improve security.

To deal with growing enrollment and limited space, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district has gotten creative with where it puts its early childhood programs.

This fall, for instance, when a new preschool section was added at the last minute, the class was moved to a pod at Friendly Hills Middle School, sandwiched between clusters of old­er stu­dents.

The space crunch means many teachers have to switch classrooms, even buildings, every year, said Nancy Allen-Mastro, the district’s superintendent.

But that will change if voters pass a $11.2 million building bond on May 6, which dedicates $8.2 million to a new early childhood center and $3 million to security updates across the district. A $1.7 million technology levy is also up for renewal, a measure that would ensure all students have equal access to devices like laptops and iPads, Allen-Mastro said.

The two-question ballot was approved by the school board last week.

“Like many districts, we’re expanding our early learning programs to keep pace with demand and ensure that we’re preparing our students for kindergarten,” she said.

By adding an early childhood center at Heritage E-STEM Magnet School, the district will eventually be able to expand programming, offering options like a combined day care and half-day preschool, said Joanne Mansur, board member.

Security, too, is an important concern, and it’s not just about preparing for extreme situations like armed intruders. Remodeling schools’ front offices will ensure that visitors have to stop there first before being directed elsewhere, Allen-Mastro said. Updates to security cameras, public address systems and features like “lockdown buttons” are included.

The tax impact for owners of a $200,000 home will be about $57 annually if both questions pass, according to Carrie Hilger, the district’s spokeswoman.

Stadium put on hold

Not included in the proposal is funding for a stadium for football and soccer teams at Henry Sibley High School, despite some early discussion and enthusiasm for the idea. Supporters created a Facebook page called “Sibley Stadium Relocation.” The existing stadium is near Heritage, in West St. Paul.

That will have to wait, according to a blog post by Allen-Mastro on the district’s website. Planning for the stadium will take time, “and many partners must be part of the process, including the cities of Mendota Heights and West St. Paul. Therefore inclusion on the May ballot is not possible,” she wrote.

A facilities task force recently found that security and early learning were the areas of greatest need, Mansur said.

Allen-Mastro noted that the district is growing, having added 400 students in recent years. Most of the growth is to the north, in West St. Paul, which is why the early childhood center will be at Heritage. It will be near a bus line for easy access, she said.

Opening the center will free space at other schools, she said. “We feel like our proposal is very cost-effective because it uses some of those existing assets … [and] keeps our cost at a minimum so we feel like we’re being respectful to our taxpayer as well.”

The board is holding the referendum in May to meet the timeline for completing the center, set to open in fall 2015 if the measure passes, she said.

Mansur said the district has been talking about improving early learning for more than five years. “I’m confident that the community is going to really get behind this,” she said.

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