Stillwater schools explore bond referendum, replacing Lake Elmo and Bayport buildings

With more than 1,000 students expected to enter Stillwater Area Public Schools in the next 10 years, school officials are considering a possible bond referendum in the fall to add capacity at the elementary and middle school levels and address issues in buildings that are more than 100 years old.

That could mean major changes at schools in the central and southern part of the district, where most of the growth is occurring.

Schools that are already near capacity and are projected to be over capacity in the coming years include: Afton-Lakeland Elementary in Lakeland; Andersen Elementary in Bayport, and Lake Elmo Elementary and Oak-Land Middle School in Lake Elmo.

“We are very early in this conversation,” said Carissa Keister, district spokeswoman. “We’re going to spend the next several months talking to our community to problem solve what are some potential solutions and opportunities.”

A recent demographic study showed most of the growth will come from communities like Baytown Township, Lake Elmo, Lakeland and Woodbury, where new homes are already under construction and future development is slated, she said.

The study also showed that birth rates are on the rise in the district; officials expect a 5.6 percent increase in the 4-year-old and younger population in the next five years.

“Part of that is just turnover in existing housing as younger families move in, and part of it is new houses being built,” Keister said. “We’re excited to see more young families moving in, and we can’t wait to welcome their children into our schools. With this growth comes a variety of opportunities — and honestly, a few logistical challenges. We need to increase capacity in our schools, and we are working with our community to determine the best way to do that for our students, families and taxpayers.”

Oldest buildings

Andersen Elementary was built in 1919, and Lake Elmo Elementary was built in 1920. They are the two oldest schools in the district, and there are challenges that come with older buildings, including accessibility issues, according to Keister.

“Buildings weren’t designed 100 years ago like they are today,” she said. “It’s a very different learning environment for our kids.”

District officials have talked for more than a decade about building a new Lake Elmo Elementary School, she said. Andersen Elementary, located in downtown Bayport, is landlocked, and “there is no potential to expand at that location,” she said. “Do we relocate and build a new campus?”

A question on a community survey – presented last week during a school board workshop – asked if participants were aware of the ages of the schools. It also asked if knowing the age of the buildings would “impact (their) support for building new elementary schools in Bayport/Baytown Township and Lake Elmo.”

The district has not purchased any land for a possible new school, Keister said.

Bayport Mayor Michele Hanson said she would push for Andersen to stay at its current location.

“Andersen Elementary needs to stay where it is,” Hanson said. “It is a cornerstone of Bayport and belongs in its center. In fact, I choose to volunteer there because it is only six blocks from my home and I know other local retirees that do the same. Generations of Bayport residents were educated there, and young families move to Bayport in large part because of our thriving and supportive school. It is a place where the community comes together and should remain at its heart.”

Community conversations

According to the recent survey, Keister said, district residents listed five issues as top concerns:

  • Safety/security improvements to buildings across the district

  • Remodel to expand Oak-Land Middle School

  • Adding early childhood learning spaces in the southern part of the district

  • Replacing Lake Elmo Elementary

  • Replacing Andersen Elementary School

District officials also are exploring adding a gymnasium to Afton-Lakeland Elementary School, she said.

The district is planning a series of community conversations to discuss facilities planning in April, Keister said. The district’s facilities team will meet in April and plans to have a recommendation to the school board in early summer.

“It’s very likely we will have something on the ballot in November for a bond referendum, but all those details are yet to be determined,” she said.

The school board in 2016 voted to close three elementary schools. After the closures of Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools, parents protested, lawsuits were filed, and board incumbents were challenged in elections.

Said Keister: “We’re taking this slow and engaging with families and residents to hear their ideas, thoughts and concerns. We know the history here, and we recognize how important it is to work together as a community. We’re very early in this process and are taking time to explore options along with the people who will be most directly impacted by future decisions. In the end, it’s about providing the very best learning environments possible for all of our kids — now and into the future.”

Stillwater Area Public Schools facility planning

  • The Stillwater School Board will discuss the facilities planning process during its regular work session beginning 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Oak Park Building, 6355 Osman Ave. N. in Stillwater.

  • For more information, go to

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