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Slowing Growth Means Scaling Back Austin's School Facility Plan

August 13, 2018 10:41 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- A proposed $30 million facility upgrade that would have brought major changes to where Austin students attend class has been significantly scaled back after an updated population report shows the district will grow at a slower-than-expected rate.

The school board got an update to the growth report Monday night, which showed existing buildings can accommodate most of the projected 120 to 500 additional students who could call the district home in the next decade.

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In May, the 60-member facilities task force, formed in January to explore space needs at the Community Learning Center and other district buildings, recommended expanding Woodson Kindergarten Center to accommodate all of the district's preschool and first-grade students. They also recommended closing Sumner Elementary School and turning that building into district offices in order to free up space at the high school.

https://www.kaaltv.com/education/austin-minnesota-school-board-space-reorganization/4907592/

The need for more space was prompted by significant growth over the past decade; the district saw a net gain of 777 students over that period, Mark Stotts, the district's executive director of finance and operations, told the board Monday. For the first time ever, the district had more than 5,000 students on October 1.

Superintendent David Krenz said that due to potential tariffs and other factors, that plan had ballooned to $37 million or higher. That and the slower growth rate prompted him to recommend taking any elementary school changes off the table.

Despite that, the board voted to put finding a new home for the CLC, which has been leasing space in the Queen of Angels Church for more than a decade, a priority.

"People have been very patient and so I think it would be very good for people at the CLC, the parents, the community to know this is a priority that we have before us," board member Kathy Green said.

Krenz said the district has explored a number of potential homes for the CLC, including vacant retail space once home to a Target and Hy-Vee, as well as the soon-to-be-vacant YMCA building, but for a variety of reasons, none of those options were feasible.

"Because of the vibrancy of the community, there isn't a lot of empty space, and we have to look at what's appropriate space and then the cost of renovating," Krenz said.

The board approved a two-year extension to the current CLC lease Monday with an option to cancel after one year. The lease will cost approximately $115,000 annually.

Another priority in the near future is freeing up space at the high school. The district is considering relocating administrative offices to another building, which would free up space for approximately seven additional classrooms. Relocating the Austin Area Learning Center would free up another five classrooms.

Krenz said the district hasn't ruled out further expansion long-term, but for the next few years, the CLC will be the main focus.

"If we get to 6,000 students we're going to need some more space," Krenz said. "We might need another elementary, so we can't say that it will never be, but right now it's too big a burden and too large a cost."

KAAL-TV

Copyright 2018 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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