School plan

An early outline of a potential site shows how property in Southwest Rochester could eventually house three schools. For now, Rochester Public School is only seeking to develop a middle school on 37 acres of the site, which it holds an option to purchase. 

The Rochester School District plans to annex an 80-acre southwest Rochester site where plans are calling for a new middle school.

An annexation request is expected to be submitted for city review next week.

“In order to continue on our path we need to press on this site,” said Kevin Holm, an architectural leader with Duluth-based LHB, Inc.

The proposed school would be located just north of 40th Street Southwest, near Bamber Valley Road.

The passing of a $180.9 million school bond referendum last month provides funding for the project to start next year. A current timeline shows site development beginning in July with plans for the school to open in the fall of 2022.

The land the school district could eventually purchase for the project includes enough space for future development of additional elementary and high schools, but those plans are much farther down the road.

What is planned are district-funded street infrastructure improvements to meet the needs outlined by city staff. Three possible options for addressing an estimated $3 million in sewer upgrades are also part of the district’s plan, Holm said.

Cindy Steinhauser, the city’s community development director, said Monday the proposed school site is at odds with the city’s current comprehensive plan.

“There will be development pressures,” she said, noting the addition of a school in the area would draw potential development to an area that isn’t expected to see immediate growth, especially since much of it sits outside city limits.

Council Member Michael Wojcik voiced concern about the potential for early growth.

“That would be the concern: If we did this and massive urban sprawl starts there,” he said.

Steinhauser said the conflict with the city’s growth plan makes other potential school sites a better fit in the eyes of city planners.

Holm, however, said other sites were researched and the proposed location is the best option for meeting the school district’s needs.

Potential sites in Northwest Rochester cause conflicts with the existing John Adams Middle School and potential boundaries.

“We have looked at other northwest sites,” Holm said. “There’s not a good plan B in the northwest.”

Other available sites in the southern part of the city provide different challenges, he added. Most are based on size or topography.

State guidelines indicate the planned middle school would require 37 acres, Holm said.

While the Rochester district has some flexibility to decrease that size, he said the state would likely push back if it knows a larger site is available.

Holm and Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz indicated the district is willing to look at other options, but continues to move forward with plans to seek annexation of 80 acres.

The district’s plan to submit the request by Dec. 11 sets the project up for a Planning and Zoning Commission review in January and City Council review in February.

Muñoz said the latest plan is a compromise to address earlier concerns voiced by the City Council and city staff.

“We came back with a proposal that addressed the concerns we heard,” he said, noting the district staff believes the proposed site remains the best location for the school.

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