Voters in the Fridley school district are being asked to approve an $11 million bond referendum that will pay for adding classrooms to two elementary schools and allow the district to move fifth-grade students from middle school back to grade schools.

The money also would be used to add additional bathrooms and expand cafeterias at Hayes and Stevenson elementary schools. The measure will be on the ballot Tuesday.

For the past 25 years, fifth-graders have attended classes at Fridley Middle School, but parents have been asking for the change, said Jael McLemore, the district's communications coordinator.

"They feel that 10 years old is a bit too young to be in the middle school setting," she said. "An extra year in elementary would allow them to learn and grow with their peers."

The district shifted fifth-graders to middle school in 1995 when it ran out of room at Hayes and Stevenson. But over the past quarter century, student needs have changed, McLemore said.

"We want to be responsive to the emotional and social needs of students," she said.

Returning fifth-graders to the elementary schools will allow them to be leaders in their schools and mentors to younger students, said school Board Member Jake Karnopp.

Fridley has about 190 students in fifth grade split between the two schools.

If approved, taxes on a home valued at $250,000, the average price of a home in the district, would rise by $2.33 a month or $28 a year. Homes valued at $100,000 would see an annual tax increase of $8 annually, while homes valued at $300,000 would see an increase of $34 a year. The tax would be in effect for 17 years.

Four classrooms each would be added to Stevenson and Hayes.

Fridley elementary schools currently serve students in kindergarten through grade four. Students in grades five through eight attend middle school while ninth- through 12th-graders attend the high school. Karnopp, who spent last weekend knocking on doors to answer questions and promote the referendum, said some families have moved out of the district or sent their kids elsewhere because of the grade structure. He's optimistic the measure will pass.

"Parents have conveyed to me that it would be cool if fifth grade moved back to elementary," he said. Others, Karnopp said, have told him "we wish you had done this sooner. There is a sense of urgency. Let's get this done."

Construction could begin as early as next spring or summer with fifth-graders attending classes at Hayes and Stevenson in fall 2023.

McLemore said the move would free up space at the middle school, which could then be used to expand before- and after-school child care. Those programs are run at the Fridley Community Center and are also facing a space crunch.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768