District 622 board approves 27-month lease of North St. Paul Community Center


The District 622 School Board approved a 27-month lease of the North St. Paul Community Center. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

After remodeling, ALC high-schoolers will occupy building

North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District officials unanimously approved a 27-month lease of the financially troubled North St. Paul Community & Fitness Center at the Feb. 26 school board meeting.

Administrators from community education, early childhood education, special education, alternative learning programs and business services presented their wide-ranging plans for proposed district facility use at the Feb. 12 school board work study session.

The two-year lease begins this month. The district will remodel the community center, located at 2290 N. First St., to house its alternative learning programs for high school juniors and seniors. Those classes are currently held at the Harmony Learning Center.

The community center opened in 1992 and has gymnasiums, fitness areas, meeting rooms, locker rooms with showers and an elevated running track. A Ramsey County branch library occupies the northeast corner of the building and will remain open to the public.

A long time coming

The district’s plans to lease the North St. Paul Community Center have fluctuated since the original proposal in August 2012. At the time, District 622 planned to use the space for its special education students.

In September, the school board approved moving forward with plans to lease 26,000 square feet of space in the city-owned community center for a period of 15 years.

But at its Nov. 27 meeting, the board voted to rescind the tentative lease agreement, which had been submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education for official approval. The school board would not have been able to sign the lease until that approval was granted.

In a previous interview, Dale Sundstrom, director of District 622 business services, said the previous terms in question stated that North St. Paul would have been able to continue city recreation programs in the late afternoons and evenings at no cost to the city.

However, district policy doesn’t allow spending money on programs that are not directly school-related, including the city recreation programs in question.

The new lease does not permit the city to use the space for after-hours recreation programs, but at the meeting, Sundstrom expressed the interest in opportunities for community partnership.

The district estimates the 2013-2014 cost of the lease, operation and furnishings to be about $226,000. This includes the construction of a new security entrance. For the 2014-2015 school year, the estimated cost would be approximately $223,000.

The funding would come from the savings of bringing special education students back to the district.

The community center will remain open to the public during the transition. The North St. Paul City Council will vote on the lease at the Mar. 5 city council meeting.

Additional facility and program changes

Besides leasing the community center, facility and program changes include bringing programs for special education students and those with emotional behavior disorders back into district facilities.

With the alternative high school moving to the community center, Harmony Learning Center, located at the corner of White Bear Avenue and County Road C, will have space for special education services.

The special education programs to move to Harmony include Setting IV emotional behavior disorder programs for middle school and high school students, and a therapeutic elementary education program for students with behavioral or emotional issues who need specialized support and instruction to prepare them for returning to their regular elementary school environment.

Currently, students with these learning needs are educated in programs in neighboring school districts, creating additional transportation and program costs. However, bringing them to a facility located within District 622 would save an estimated $1.2 million per year.

“Similar to how parents would pay tuition for a private school, the district pays ‘tuition’ for these students to be educated elsewhere,” special services director Karon Joyer explained in a later interview. “There are a variety of factors that contribute to the cost of educating these students and tuition is one of the main ones.”

There are approximately 45 students in kindergarten through 12th grade currently educated in EBD programs outside the district.

In addition to monetary savings, students, parents and staff would save commute time by traveling to a more centrally located facility. The new program facility could potentially attract special education students from other districts, thus creating additional revenue through tuition fees.

The district estimates it will cost about $632,557 to make the community center operable for school programs. This would cover an interior remodel and new furnishings.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7814.

Correction

A March 6 story entitled “District 622 board approves 27-month lease of North St. Paul Community Center” incorrectly stated the estimated price tag for building renovations.
According to District Principal of Alternative Programs Joe Richter, the school district estimates that it will cost approximately $632,557 to renovate Harmony for special education programs.
The Review regrets the error.

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