All of us seek a sense of belonging, a home where we can hang our hat and be our truest selves. The same is true for people in the workplace and for students and parents who attend an educational program. I am pleased to report that this month the school board made a commitment to our early learning program by approving a 10-year lease agreement for property located at 1970 Christensen Avenue in West St. Paul. What was once a post office will undergo significant renovation to become home to our youngest learners, providing them with committed space that will enable them to grow and thrive!
Dedicating space to our early learning program is an important step in the evolution of this vital district program. The move will enhance program quality and effectiveness by ensuring adequate, age-appropriate space is available to students, staff, and parents on a continuous basis. Services will be centrally located, and time will no longer be wasted relocating programs every summer.
Currently, early learning programs occupy whatever space is available in the district. This worked during a time when early learning was growing and K-12 enrollment was declining. Growth in K-12 enrollment over the past five years, however, has increased at a rapid and consistent rate, resulting in an unsustainable approach in how we were utilizing our facilities. To address this, the school board posed a May 2014 bond referendum to build an early learning center. The bond referendum failed, forcing the district to seek other options.
Leasing space proved to be a cost-effective way to meet our needs. Funding to cover the lease costs will be accomplished by the board utilizing its levy authority to collect taxes to pay for educational space, in this case space for early learning. The impact on the local taxpayer was given careful consideration in making this decision. The total 10-year cost for the lease will be $3,988,669, ranging from $295,451 in year one to $439,818 in the tenth year. This equates to a $13/year tax impact on a home valued at $200,000 in 2016. Compared to our original bond request for $8.6M for an early learning center (principle plus interest over the life of the bond), the total lease amount is less than half the cost of building.
Although leasing does not result in ownership at the end of the 10-year lease (as the bond would have), we believe we have achieved a win-win solution that meets our educational needs and respects the impact on local taxpayers. Construction will begin as soon as site plans are finalized. Early learning staff are scheduled to occupy the space in August of 2015, with programming to begin in September.
For our early learning staff and the many parent and community advocates who have participated in programming and supported the educational needs of our youngest learners, finding a dedicated site has been a five-year journey. They have remained patient at a time when programs were bursting at the seams, and they have maintained a positive attitude. On behalf of District 197, we can't thank them enough.
For now, we look forward to our grand opening in the fall and hope you will join us!
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