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Liberty Ridge expansion possible

The District 833 School Board is moving toward expanding Liberty Ridge Elementary School in Woodbury.

The decision would mean expanding a nearby former commercial building that now houses kindergarten and pre-school classes in order to cope with future overcrowding at the school.

Enrollment at Liberty Ridge has increased by 220 students in two years, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations.

The expansion proposal includes buying the leased space near the school and adding 12,500 square feet for $4.5 million.

The district would finance two-thirds of the project with a lease levy with the remainder paid for with approximately $1 million left from the 2006 construction bond issue and $100,000 a year from the annual $6 million the district gets for operating and repairing buildings and grounds, according to Vogel.

Superintendent Mark Porter said there might be sources other than the operating fund to pay the difference.

The lease for the current space is $168,000 this year and $176,400 next year, adding an additional $5 in taxes on a $250,000 home.

The proposed construction's impact to property taxes would be $8 on a $250,000 home, mostly because the lease levy would be financed over a longer period of time. The district would own the facility.

The additional tax, either to construct or lease, is levied throughout the district as it is when the district expands a building or builds a new facility such as East Ridge High School.

In addition to the growth in the last two years, there is new construction planned that would put more pressure on Liberty Ridge enrollment.

There are 110 multiple dwelling lots and 277 single-family lots available for new construction. Stonemill Farms, the development where Liberty Ridge is located, has also submitted an application to Woodbury for 51 multiple dwelling lots and 174 single family homes, according to Vogel.

If the board opts for construction, which would begin in April and be ready when school opens next fall, it will still have to close the school to open enrollment and requests for transfer from other district schools.

Two areas, affecting fewer than 20 students, would still have to be shifted to the Middleton Elementary School attendance boundary.

The School Board will discuss and hear testimony and decide the issue at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Boundary alternative

If the district opts to only adjust attendance boundaries instead, it would have to close open enrollment and in-district transfers for next year and rescind open enrollment for about 50 students already at the school.

Some neighborhoods would be transferred to Middleton but not until the following year in order to discuss new boundaries with parents, Vogel said.

Preschool classes, now with waiting lists, would be ended and at least one all-day kindergarten section.

About 10 Liberty Ridge parents attended the Dec. 1 workshop meeting but were not allowed to express opinions because it was not a regular meeting.

After the meeting, parents said they are opposed to changing attendance boundaries.

Sara Walkenhorst, whose family transferred to Woodbury from Salt Lake City, and Jaime Kokaisel, are against altered attendance boundaries because their family moved to the city so their children could attend Liberty Ridge.

"That's also why we moved here," said parent Amy Stansel.

There is not consensus on the School Board.

Board member Jim Gelbmann said during last week's meeting that he is "100 percent" opposed to the expansion while there are "empty desks" at other schools.

If needed, some Liberty Ridge students could be bussed to Grey Cloud Elementary School in Cottage Grove, he said.

Gelbmann said his decision opposing expansion was easy to make. Remaining referendum money and money from the operating fund could be better spent to increase the number of interactive computer SMART boards in classrooms.

The board shouldn't ask taxpayers to build more schools if there is room in existing buildings, he said.

Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd disagreed.

"I don't see this as a housing spike," she said.

There are an additional 400 housing units on deck and the Liberty Ridge addition is a very viable option, she said.

The district is going to need the additional space in the future and it appears to be a good investment, said board member Laurie Johnson.

Her family had the negative experience of being bussed out of their attendance boundary to another school, she said, adding that she considered looking at other "options" to educate her children.

Even if 200 kids are sent to other schools, there are still 900 kids at Liberty Ridge, said board member Ron Kath, with more to come in the future because of additional construction.

Going through "painful" attendance boundary changes wouldn't solve overcrowding in the long term, Kath said.

Vogel acknowledged there is space at Bailey Elementary School but that will be needed as the area around Bielenberg Sports Center develops.

"It's financially prudent to get rid of leases," Porter said, particularly in a growing district.

The proposed construction being recommended by the administration is a long term investment, he said, because there is a lot of open land still available in east Woodbury.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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