Get ready for another “megaschool” in the Twin Cities metro area.

After years of contentious debate, the Shakopee School District is moving forward with a referendum that will ask voters to double the size of Shakopee High School.

The board unanimously approved the first reading of a two-question proposal last week. The first question asks for $102.5 million for an addition to the high school that would accommodate 1,600 more students, bringing maximum enrollment to 3,200. The school would open for the 2018-2019 academic year.

In addition, ninth-graders would move to high school, sixth-graders would transition to middle school and the Pearson Sixth Grade Center would be converted to an elementary school. The question would also fund security and outdoor facility improvements, too.

The second question would increase access to technology for students, including training and tech support, at a cost of $2.5 million per year for 10 years.

“We think this is a plan that delivers all that we listened to from the community,” said Reggie Bowerman, school board member.

The board will formally vote on the proposal at the Feb. 9 meeting, with a referendum planned for May 5. The tax impact for owners of a $200,000 home will be $285 per year if both questions pass.

Trying again

The board’s action came after a failed referendum last spring that would have built a second high school to accommodate the district’s growing enrollment.

Many residents feared that having two high schools would divide the community, creating rivalry between schools and animosity if one school was perceived to have better academics, staff or activities.

So the school board started over, forming four committees made up of parents, administrators and staff to address different topics.

“We didn’t handpick a select group of people who all thought like we did,” said Superintendent Rod Thompson.

The groups all did extensive research, and then one group of 75 members whittled down the options to four plans.

Several surveys confirmed that a majority of residents preferred one large high school, rather than two smaller ones.

Learning academies key

If the referendum passes, the new megaschool would be divided into six “academies” devoted to different career paths, like health sciences, engineering and manufacturing or arts and communication.

The plan creates a school that is “consciously and purposefully designed so we will have a large high school that feels small,” said Bowerman. “That is very important to us — critically important.”

While every board member expressed general support for the referendum, three acknowledged a large school hadn’t been their first choice. But they said that they believe the academies, along with caring staff members, would provide the support students need.

Board member Mary Romansky became emotional, her voice wavering when she said her biggest concern with a big school is that students would get lost in the shuffle. She talked about her own experience moving from a tiny school to a large one, where she was harassed and didn’t have friends.

“I have faith in our staff. I know [they] care about our kids. That’s what has helped me make the decision to do this,” she said.

Students wouldn’t choose an academy, or focus, until 10th grade, and they could combine interests and take classes in several areas, Bowerman said.

“I’m excited about [the academies] because I think it’s revolutionary,” said parent Stephanie Bode, who was part of a referendum guidance group. “I feel like this is a great compromise between those who wanted to stay united as a community and those who believe in smaller learning communities for kids.”

Thompson said the high school also hopes to build more community partnerships so students can get real-world experience in a career field that interests them.

“We had no idea ... how big of a question and exactly how important it was,” said Scott Swanson, board member. “Because of our failure, we were able to rise up and find the good.”