For the first time in its 30-year history, the Zumbro Education District is building a new, large-scale facility of its own to call home.
The education district has acquired land in Kasson for the project. Sitting on a little more than 6 acres, the building will be 61,000 square feet and cost $16 million. Those involved with the project say it will allow the district to better serve its students.
“This has been a labor of love for many people for two and half years,” said Patrick Gordon, executive director for ZED. “We’re going to have state-of-the-art learning environments for the students who have probably the most challenges. ... this is just a win for our students who have the highest needs.”
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The Zumbro Education District serves students from a number of school districts, including Blooming Prairie, Byron, Stewartville, Hayfield, Kasson-Mantorville, Pine Island and Triton. Essentially, ZED offers services that the member districts wouldn’t necessarily be able to provide by themselves. It provides services for the deaf and hard of hearing and students with visual impairments. It also offers occupational therapy, behavioral management, and special education among other services.
The district has around 200 on-site students. However, it also has staff members who work with students in their home districts, or even in their own residences.
The Kasson-Mantorville School District donated approximately 3 acres of land to the project. Kasson-Mantorville Superintendent Mark Matuska said the vote to donate the land was unanimous.
“Being a member of ZED keeps our costs low, yet our services are of an excellent caliber, and that’s not something all districts enjoy,” Matuska said. "There's just so many efficiencies that are built into ZED that really make it a value to all the districts that are a part of it."
ZED is governed by a school board that includes representatives from its various member districts. Moving the project forward became a process of coordinating and balancing all the needs of the various districts.
The Pine Island School District will be leaving ZED in 2022, but that hasn't slowed the project down. Low interest rates have made the project less expensive for the remaining six districts than it would have been for all seven, Gordon said.
“We have to have seven school boards essentially vote on this. And, that gets really complicated. They’re supportive, but they all have their own needs,” Gordon said. “Everyone's building a building or has financial needs. It’s all about timing. That's just the name of the game.”
The new building will open in the fall of 2022 off of Minnesota Highway 57 in Kasson, just north of the Kasson-Mantorville High School. A timeline for construction of the building has not yet been finalized.
The Zumbro Education District currently operates out of three locations in Byron, and it rents one of the spaces from Byron Public Schools. Part of the need for a new building is due to growth in Byron's school district, Gordon said.
Nonetheless, operating out of single space designed for its own needs will be incredibly beneficial for the district, he said. It will make it easier to collaborate among the various staff members and programs currently spread out over several buildings. It will make it easier to have large meetings or events, if they like. It will allow space to grow.
"We've always felt ZED has done a great job with the quality piece, but having new spaces creates new opportunities," said Chris Staloch, superintendent of Blooming Prairie Public Schools. "And I think for our students, it's going to be wonderful."