With the construction of a new building on the way, sledding at Bishop Elementary may not be the same in years to come.

Bishop Elementary is one of two existing schools in Rochester being rebuilt as part of the referendum voters approved in 2019. Demolition of the existing Bishop building is scheduled to start in Mary and finish in July. Construction of the new building is scheduled to start in June and continue into 2022.

The current rendition of the school has a number of acres of green space, as well as a hill that students often use in the winter for sledding. The new footprint of the school, however, will take away much of that hill.

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"Unfortunately, with the previously mentioned building and city codes, along with limitations of the site’s footprint, the District will only retain a portion of the sledding hill," Principal Jared Groehler wrote to families in a February update on the project. "We feel our design team delivered the best design possible given the goals for the District, goals of the site, and restrictions within the square footage of the property."

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Bishop Elementary is located just off West Circle Drive, north of Country Club Road and south of Highway 14. The new building will be a lot bigger than the existing school — nearly twice as big, in fact. The current school serves around 450 students. After the redesign, the capacity will be 720 students. It will be two stories, compared to the single story in the existing building.

"We're increasing capacity to accommodate the growth in the area and in the city," said Jason Woodhouse, of CRW Architecture and Design Group.

There's also going to be more parking spaces, increasing from the current 75 to a minimum of 116 to accommodate the increase in staff with the larger school. Scott Sherden, RPS executive director of operations, said Bishop has approximately 7.5 acres of space.

"We'll hopefully retain the majority of that," Sherden said.

The fact that the school will be losing much of the sledding hill has not slipped by some of the parents of the students who enjoy it.

Jana Miller, president of the school's parent teacher student association, has advocated to the School Board to alter the plans for the building, even referencing the Department of Education's "Guide for Planning School Construction Projects in Minnesota."

"(It) breaks my heart, to think this will be the last year, ever, that that hill can be used," she said.

Rendering of the new Bishop Elementary School in Rochester. (Courtesy of CRW Architecture and Design Group)
Rendering of the new Bishop Elementary School in Rochester. (Courtesy of CRW Architecture and Design Group)

A petition was launched online, titled "Save our Green Space at Bishop Elementary - Rochester, MN." The petition received more than 300 names.

The School District says it incorporated input from a number of sources when creating the design for the school.

"Our architectural design team evaluated and discussed the goals of the District and community, and then provided multiple building and site concepts for additional feedback from the community, including Bishop staff and parents," the school's website says.

Miller said neither the The Manor Neighborhood Association nor the school's PTSA was contacted for input on the project.

The Rochester School Board discussed the progress of Bishop Elementary with construction officials during a recent meeting. Several board members brought up concerns from the community.

Board member Don Barlow asked if the community input was taken into consideration before the design of the new building was drawn up. Woodhouse said there were comments about the green space and sledding hill during a community input meeting held last year.

However, there were other factors to be considered at the time. The original plan was to continue using the existing building while the new building was under construction. That means the new building could not be located in the exact same footprint.

That's no longer the case. Rather, the district plans to move Bishop Elementary students to Overland Elementary while the new Bishop building is under construction. Overland Elementary is one of the two new schools being built with the same referendum funding as the Bishop rebuild.

Miller said the fact that they're no longer going to use the existing school while the new building is being constructed means they should have been able to redesign their plans.

Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin asked how realistic it would be to move the footprint of the building before construction begins.

Keane McWaters, of Knutson Construction, said moving the footprint of the school would require a "complete civil redesign of the entrances."

He said that would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, as well as a delay in the project's schedule. A delay in the construction schedule could then cause other complications in the district, such as with the redistricting process currently underway.

"There is a rippling effect," he said.