The northwest side of Cottage Grove is headed for a major transformation, now that zoning has been approved for a new 1,100-student middle school and outdoor athletic fields.
The City Council this month agreed to a site plan for the new Oltman Middle School and changed zoning on the 57-acre parcel from agriculture to residential.
That means construction will begin in October on a school that's scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.
"It's always nice to have a new building and new technology, and it's great for the kids," said Dave Thiede, a Cottage Grove City Council member.
The current Oltman school, which has stood for many years next-door in St. Paul Park, was considered an awkward fit for the middle school model that separates students into teams with specific sets of teachers.
In November, voters in the South Washington County school district narrowly approved a $96 million bond issue to build the new Oltman in Cottage Grove and renovate the current Oltman to house the Nuevas Fronteras Elementary School.
The new Oltman will be built on land formerly owned by Bailey Nurseries at 65th Street and Geneva Avenue. The location is a stone's throw from the city lines of St. Paul Park, Newport and Woodbury.
The only other middle school in Cottage Grove, a city of 35,000, is Cottage Grove Middle School.
"I think it's great for the city," Thiede said of the new school.
When the issue went before the city's planning commission, some neighbors raised questions about water runoff, an increase in traffic and a proposed traffic roundabout. "But I think they were fairly content in the explanation," Thiede said.
Cottage Grove and Washington County transportation leaders will make adjustments for increased traffic as necessary, he said.
Schools don't produce tax revenue, but Thiede said the new Oltman could spur housing growth that would compensate for losing taxable land.
The school district bought the land for $5,142,600, or about $90,000 an acre.
Plans for the new Oltman show 188,000 square feet of floor space with a potential expansion to accommodate 1,497 students. The school will include an auditorium and lecture hall seating about 450 people.
The school will open with about 850 students, below its capacity of 1,100. If district enrollment grows, an eventual expansion would include a two-story addition of about 38,600 square feet.
The school district has proposed building football and soccer fields on one side of the school, and softball fields and "flexible playing fields" on the other.
Other school districts in Washington County also have construction projects in the works. The Stillwater district is building Brookview Elementary in northeast Woodbury and additions to Stillwater Area High School. Forest Lake voters approved a bond referendum in November to pay for improvements at all of the district's schools.