“Whenever you have high growth in a community, that's a challenge to deal with.”—Rhonda Gaulke, long range facilities task force member
In recent years, Woodbury and Cottage Grove have been among the fastest-growing suburbs in the Twin Cities area, a trend that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. For South Washington County Schools (which also includes residents of Newport and St. Paul Park), the primary challenge is anticipating how that growth will impact students' and families' needs for the services the district provides.
Long Range Facility Planning ProcessOn a regular basis since 1992, the district has completed long-range facility planning processes and building construction referendums about every six to eight years, says Mike Vogel, the district’s assistant superintendent for operations. According to Vogel, the data the district uses to estimate future facility needs is based on a process of “’progressing’ the current population of students up a grade each year, adding the known population of pre-k students and projecting the number of students from future residential development in each city.”
Those projections differ by city; for example, each new single family home in Cottage Grove has historically added .52 elementary students, .19 middle school students and .2 high school students to the district’s enrollment. For Woodbury, the numbers are .54 elementary students, .21 middle school and .13 high school students for each new home built. Collectively the cities of Cottage Grove and Woodbury estimate they will add nearly 6,000 new homes over the next 10 years, Vogel says. Adding those numbers of students would bring the district’s total enrollment to about 20,330 in 10 years.
The district's most recent facility-planning process took place in 2005. The growth projections at that time resulted in voter approval of a $149 million bond referendum in 2006 to finance construction of East Ridge High School and additions at the district’s two other high schools, Woodbury High and Park High. It also provided $49 million for mechanical upgrades at middle school and high school buildings.
To carry out the current planning process, South Washington County Schools has created a long range facilities task force: 10 internal members representing district administration and various departments, plus 16 external members representing parents from the school buildings and within the community. A six-member steering committee generates ideas.
The steering committee is charged with recommending to the school board three different alternatives for facility investment. Two or three public meetings will be held this fall to present those options and obtain community feedback. Focus groups and surveys will be used to provide more community input. Then the board will approve a single plan.
One of the parents serving on the district task force is Rhonda Gaulke of Woodbury. She and her husband Kevin, who have lived in the district since 2001, have two children attending district schools; a daughter and son in eighth/sixth grades at Lake Middle School. Gaulke became involved in the process by responding to an email from the district asking parents if they wanted to be involved in various committees. She indicated interest in the facility-planning committee and was selected. “They did a nice job of getting a parent or other 'external member' involved from each of the schools in the district,” she says.Gaulke expects that the task of figuring out how the district will handle the expected increase in student numbers will become more challenging as the meetings progress. “In the beginning, we were just looking at the data, but at the last (most recent) meeting we started brainstorming on possible solutions, which is the fun part,” she says. “But when we get to the point of narrowing down the options, it will become more difficult. Whenever you have high growth in a community, that's a challenge to deal with.”