For a school bond referendum, think “bricks and mortar.” In Columbia Heights School District’s case, the district is seeking voters’ approval to substantially upgrade North Park Elementary School, built in 1966, and also improve facilities at Columbia Heights High School, built in 1959.
The referendum vote on the proposed $16 million project is Nov. 7. If it succeeds, Columbia Heights residents will pay $3 more a month (which adds up to $36 a year) in property taxes, if their house has a $125,000 taxable market value. For a $150,000 house, the monthly increase is $3.83 a month, or $46 a year. For a $200,000 house, it would be $5.67 a month, or $68 a year.
North Park Elementary
School staff and architects have been working for four years on ways to reconfigure North Park, 5575 Fillmore St. NE, Fridley. Principal Jeff Casek, who is in his 14th year at the school, said the challenge with the 51-year old building is to add more classrooms, better security, and better lighting. (Because the school was built into the side of a hill, many rooms, such as the gymnasium and cafeteria, don’t have windows.) The two-level building has several entrances, which makes security difficult. Parking and traffic flow also needs work. Parents often encounter congestion in the “drop off” circle by the front door. (“It’s a nightmare,” Casek said.) The upper lot has only six parking spaces. On the lower parking lot, buses, cars, and kids all mix. Sometimes, students play games on the asphalt.
The new plan includes one secure entrance on the lower level, close to the relocated administrative offices. It calls for a major building project that will include two new additions. One at the north end would house a cafeteria. A second, built to the east, would include early childhood, kindergarten, science and art classrooms, plus a media arts lab and a library.
The proposal includes a new cars-only parking lot with a Fillmore Street entrance and exit. Another entrance north of that serves buses and delivery vans, which would exit on Lynde Street. The playground would likely be relocated and its play equipment upgraded.
Three proposals for the high school include updating its performance arts center (PAC), building a new band room addition (adjacent to and south of the high school), and adding a “Murphy bed”-style thrust stage to the school gymnasium.
The PAC saw its last renovation in 1998. Since then, according to Principal Dan Wrobleski, it has had a lot of wear. “It is primarily for the high school, but the district and community use it. The Columbia Heights Fine Arts Foundation has its plays in here, the Silver Lake Symphonic Winds community band has concerts here, and the middle school uses it. Our sound system needs work. When there’s a play, they have to drape wires down from the light and sound booth. I call it jerry-rigging. The sound and light equipment take up the last two rows of the auditorium.”
The plan includes a new sound system, stage lighting, projector, and control systems. The stage would be re-floored, the curtain and carpeting replaced, the auditorium repainted, and the stage ramp rebuilt to ADA (American with Disabilities) standards. The actors’ dressing room would get a cosmetic uplift.
The band room would get a serious upgrade in the new addition, with better acoustics, more practice space, more storage space for instruments, and an area for the band teacher to clean and repair instruments. The current band room is in a former classroom. There are about 40 students in two bands; Wrobleski said the room is so cramped that trombone players struggle not to hit the other musicians. “There is no other room in our building that is conducive for the band room,” he added. The new addition is proposed for an area out the back door, close to the tennis courts.
The gym (the one inside the high school, not in the Hylander Center) would get a new fold-up mechanical thrust stage. Wrobleski said they have held four events recently that required a portable stage; the new thrust stage would increase their ability to hold several events at the same time. The stage can be lowered for performances and raised so it is flush with the wall when not in use. The school gym is heavily used; it has hosted Governor Mark Dayton, a Medal of Honor ceremony, graduations, and many school games and events.
Columbia Heights schools had 3,100 K-12 students in the 2016-17 school year. The high school had 912 students, Central Academy (grades 6-7) 744, Highland Elementary 591, North Park 488 and Valley View 543. Seventy to 85 percent of students in all schools are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Last year the ethnic composition of the student body was black, 35.7 percent; Hispanic, 34 percent; white, 21.2 percent; Asian/Pacific Islander, 5.4 percent; and American Indian, 3.7 percent. Twenty seven percent of the students are English Language Learners and 15 percent are in special education programs.
The referendum question will be on the November 7 ballot. The Columbia Heights polling locations are Highland Elementary, 1500 49th Ave. NE, and Valley View Elementary, 800 49th Ave. NE.
District forums on the bond
To learn more, the public is invited to attend three upcoming Columbia Heights Public School District Bond forums which will include question and answer sessions. The bond forums are scheduled for the following days, dates, times and locations:
• Thursday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m., Columbia Heights High School (1400 49th Avenue NE, Columbia Heights)
• Monday, Oct. 16, 6:15 p.m., North Park Elementary School (5575 Fillmore Street NE, Fridley)
• Monday, Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m., Columbia Heights High School (1400 49th Avenue NE, Columbia Heights)
For information, check the website, colheights.k12.mn.us/2017Bond, e-mail News@colheights.k12.mn.us or to request a presentation, call Director of Technology and Security Services Bryan Hennekens, 763-528-4479.