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Wrenshall will vote on $12.5 million school facilities plan

When consolidation talks with neighboring Carlton School District ended in April, the Wrenshall School Board kept on making plans ... just without Carlton.

The plans they came up with include remodeling and expanding the current school educational space, plus constructing a joint community fitness center and sports complex. Now it's up to Wrenshall School District voters to give the $12.5 million proposal a yes or no vote on April 18.

Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro said the board held a final community meeting after the talks ended last spring which drew close to 100 residents.

"The message we heard was 'continue moving forward, don't give up,'" she said. "It was very evident they wanted to maintain a school presence here, which has always been the sticking point with consolidation between the two school districts. When a small school is the heart of the community, it's very difficult to give up, for Wrenshall or Carlton."

Wrenshall officials built on some of the plans discussed during the consolidation talks, and worked with the same firms to draft further plans.

There are three main parts of the project: renovation, new construction and partnership, Belcastro said.

Renovation work would include the following:

• Roof replacement on two-thirds of the existing building;

• Tuckpointing brickwork;

• Replace old single-pane windows at elementary school and shop;

• Resurface parking lots; and

• Telephone, intercom and security camera systems need replacement.

As part of the renovation work, district facilities would be repurposed to create dedicated, age-appropriate spaces, including the following:

• Upgrade and increase the Wrens Club preschool space by moving it to the current district office;

• Create a robotics and computer-assisted drafting lab; and

• Expand and remodel the metal and wood shop.

The current recreation building north of the main building would be torn down and replaced with a more permanent 45,000-foot structure that will include the following:

• New handicapped accessible front entrance with improved secure entry points;

• Bus lane/drop off zone and parking lot at the new entrance to improve student safety and traffic flow;

• Addition of multi-use science classroom and lab, business technology classroom, English and health classrooms;

• Addition of modern, efficient cafeteria and food-service facility;

• New main gymnasium; and

• Relocation of district office and Dean of Students office at the new front entrance so the Wrens Club can be near the elementary school section.

The district had wanted to partner and collaborate with Community Memorial Hospital on a new wellness and fitness center but CMH CEO Rick Breuer said Thursday that the proposal was not moving forward because it was too expensive. He did note that the hospital likely could work with the school on health-care classes.

The district is also working with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College to create joint academic programming, including College in the Schools, a culinary arts program that would utilize the old cafeteria space, electronic technology programming, as well as horticulture, biology and sustainability programming.

A proposed athletic partnership with FDLTCC to build a new track and football field fell through, she noted in her most recent "Images" school newsletter column.

On a home valued at $150,000, the school facilities work would mean an increase of $270 per year (or $23 a month) in the school district portion of their property taxes, while the fitness/wellness center would cost a homeowner with a $150,000 home an additional $30 a year in property taxes.

Belcastro said the district is dealing with increased enrollment, particularly in the lower grades.

"Over the years, it's been common for the high school to be larger than the elementary school. Now it's the opposite," she said. "When you see that, it's a sign of stability and growth."

Wrenshall currently has 343 students enrolled in grades K-12 and another 50-60 in the preschool program. Next year they're projecting 371 students.

"It's been years since we've had that many students," Belcastro said.

A "vote yes" volunteer group calling itself "Grow Wrens" is already holding almost weekly meetings and working to get the word out about the plans. Their next meeting is March 21 in the school library.

However, not everyone in the Wrenshall School District is thrilled with the proposal. A "vote no" group is organizing, Dan Conley told the Pine Journal.

"People are concerned about the referendum's impact on taxpayers and homeowners," Conley said, adding that the large number of open-enrolled students is also a concern, because their parents don't pay taxes in the school district and their continued enrollment is not guaranteed.

The district is holding a final community meeting on the facility project at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, in the Wrenshall School Commons. The vote will take place in the school Rec. Building from noon to 8 p.m. April 18. Residents can also vote absentee by contacting the County Auditor's office at 218-384-9127 or stopping by the courthouse at 305 Walnut Ave., Carlton, during working hours Monday through Friday.

Editor's note: Find more details on the proposed building renovations and additions on the Wrenshall school district website (www.wrenshall.k12.mn.us) or in an upcoming issue of the Pine Journal.

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