The Minneapolis school board has approved hiring a design consultant for an estimated $27 million in upgrades at two schools in south Minneapolis, the Keewaydin campus of Lake Nokomis School and lower campus of Lake Harriet School.

The district estimates the work, solutions for rising enrollment in portions of the district, will cost $16 million at Keewaydin and $11 million at Lake Harriet's lower campus

During their meeting Tuesday, the board also gave the go-ahead for a study to determine needs at Pratt Community School, which the district says is in dire need of improvement.

Administrators would like the Keewaydin work, which may include a new gymnasium, to be finished by summer 2013 and have an expansion at Lake Harriet complete by the spring of 2014. A timeline will not be set for Pratt until the study is complete. The district has $32 million from its maintenance funds available to cover the projects.

School board members will approve the actual construction projects.

The work could be a harbinger for a large scale school improvement plan. The resolution approved Tuesday night indicates that staff will present a capital spending plan to school board members in summer 2012. Lake Harriet, Keewaydin and Pratt were determined to have immediate needs that could not wait for the presentation.

I wrote a story about the plans for Saturday's paper. In the online comment, readers wondered why the district is spending money to expand buildings when there are a number of vacant buildings available for use.

A projected uptick in enrollment has left the district searching for answers to crowding concerns, especially in south Minneapolis: a district committee has studied solutions for months and re-opening closed schools could be an option, schools spokesman Stan Alleyne said.

Concerns about handling enrollment sinks and surges have dogged the Minneapolis schools for decades.

The school board closed 18 of its 66 schools in 1982, the largest number shuttered at once in district history. But seven of the buildings, including Pratt, eventually reopened. In three other cases, new schools were built on the same sites where closed schools were demolished.

Pratt was set to be demolished too; pleas from neighbors saved the building from the wrecking ball. It re-opened four years later. Now it could be in line for millions of dollars in upgrades.

In 2005, a consultant recommended closing Wenonah, the other Lake Nokomis school. After weighing their options, board members ditched the suggestion and merged Keewaydin and Wenonah, which were both K-5 schools, to create a K-8 instead. In recent years, parents have lobbied the district for expansion of both buildings.

Here's the resolution the school board approved Tuesday:


Design Feasibility Study