Board member Mary Romansky jokes that the mascot at the Shakopee district’s proposed new high school should be a saber, or sword.

The new symbol would complement the current Shakopee High School mascot, which is a saber-toothed tiger. Then everyone in Shakopee could still say they supported the Sabers, she said.

After several years of debate and angst about whether Shakopee should be a two-high-school town, the school board has approved putting an $89 million bond referendum on the ballot this March, with $78 million going toward building a new high school.

The 20-year bond would add $156 annually to the property taxes on an average Shakopee home valued at $200,000. Six board members voted in favor of the referendum, with one — board member Steve Schneider — voting against it. If it passes, the high school would open in 2017.

The new school is needed not just to accommodate future growth in Shakopee but to make space for students who are already enrolled, said Superintendent Rod Thompson.

“The math is the easier part here, because we’re not looking at a Magic 8 Ball,” Thompson said. “We’re looking at actual kids in the seats.”

Elementary schools are already at capacity, said Romansky, and there’s a bubble of students at the junior high that the current high school can’t accommodate. Shakopee High School, built in 2007, serves students in grades 10-12 and has a 1,600-student capacity.

Building the new school would help overcrowding throughout the district, Romansky said, “because it frees up spaces in the lower grades as well. It affects the entire gamut, from kindergarten through 12th grade, as far as where the students are and the amount of students in each school.”

If a new high school is built, sixth-graders, currently at the Pearson 6th Grade Center, would move to the middle school, and ninth-graders would attend high school. Then Pearson would convert into another elementary school.

Romansky said that by 2017, when the new school would open, the district will have at least 2,400 students in grades 9-12. And Shakopee is expected to continue growing, both because of new housing units and “a very large population of childbearing age residents. That’s where most of our growth is coming from,” said Romansky.

Over the past year, the board has discussed other options, including a high school addition. It also debated building another school, but using a “stacked” model, which would put ninth and 10th grade in one building and 11th and 12th grade in the other.

However, staff and students in White Bear Lake, which has the “stacked” model, actually said they would prefer the traditional 9-12 grade configuration, said Romansky.

“People may consider [the stacked model] the best option for themselves because it’s not dividing the city, but you have to look at what’s best for the students,” she said. “And [another 9-12 high school] is the answer for it.”

The district passed building bond referendums in 2004 to pay for the existing high school and again in 2005 to build two elementary schools and a pool facility.

The new high school would be located on an 80-acre site a mile south of the current high school. While not designed yet, the idea is for it to be as similar as possible to the current high school, Romansky said.

Other projects included in the bond are a $5 million athletic facility upgrade to Vaughan Field at West Junior High, so that teams from both high schools could play there. The facility would be designed so both team’s colors and mascots could be switched out easily, Romansky said.

The bond also stipulates that $3 million be used for deferred maintenance projects and $3 million for safety and security updates.

Having the referendum in March gives the administration and board time to make their case to residents on why they need the new school, Thompson said.

A recent analysis of the community’s appetite for a referendum indicated that about half of Shakopee residents would either vote in favor of it or are leaning toward doing so, said Romansky, but “we have to do the convincing in the middle.”

There’s still plenty of anxiety in Shakopee about having two high schools, Thompson added.

“We have our work to do over the next six months to come up with and show … [that] an advantage of having a two-high-school community is all the more opportunities there are for our students,” Thompson said.