A Forest Lake charter school that began in 2004 with 174 students and now serves four times as many kids is planning a second campus.
"We have exceeded all our early expectations," said Shannon Peterson, assistant director of Lakes International Language Academy, also known as LILA.
The new campus is to be built on a 10.5-acre site near the Forest Lake Area Athletic Association Sports Center, and would begin operations in the 2014-15 school year. Total cost for land acquisition, design and construction is about $6.6 million, according to finance documents submitted to the city by LILA Director Cam Hedlund.
The K-6 charter school was founded by parents and educators after the Forest Lake Area Schools balked at creating a language-immersion program. LILA began in 2004 with Spanish immersion and later added a Chinese language program that has helped fuel a rise in enrollment to about 900 students in 2018, Peterson said.
On May 13, the Forest Lake City Council is expected to consider final action on a proposal to issue $16 million in bonds for LILA, with bond payments to be covered by the school at no risk to the city. The financing plan won preliminary approval on April 8.
Last year, the city of Woodbury approved a similar plan on behalf of the Math and Science Academy, also a charter school, for an addition near its Woodbury Crossing home.
About $7.8 million of the LILA bond proceeds would be used to refinance debt remaining from construction of the current campus at 246 11th Av. SE. The school also is planning to acquire and renovate an office building at 121 11th Av. SE for preschool programming, Peterson said.
The new campus would be about 2½ miles from the current site and house Spanish and Chinese immersion students in fourth to sixth grades, Peterson said. Currently, the Chinese immersion program is offered to kindergarten and first-grade students, but the school plans to add a new grade of Chinese immersion each year for the next six years.
Although the financing plan is nearing approval, LILA still must have construction plans approved by the city and the local watershed district.
Asked whether the school has any plans to expand beyond the current proposal, Peterson said LILA has permission from its authorizer and the State Department of Education to expand to seventh to 12th grades. But, she said, "when and if that happens is still a question."
Earlier this year, LILA and the Forest Lake Area Schools were honored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota for collaborative work that included efforts to ensure that sixth-grade graduates at LILA had a path to continue immersion studies at the district's junior and senior high schools.