After facing years of declining enrollments, the Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial School District may be rebounding. Enrollments are increasing at the preschool level and even some grade levels — like Evette Ingvalson’s sixth-grade class with 30 students.

The Free Press, Mankato, MN

New Ulm Public Schools’ Supt. Harold Remme presides over a district that, because of falling enrollment numbers, was recently forced to close its middle school.

When asked if the district had any long-term facility plans, Remme chuckled and said, “Certainly nothing ground-breaking.”

Remme was referencing the fact New Ulm’s upcoming facility projects are relatively mundane — high school track upgrades and resurfaced tennis courts — as well as the fact New Ulm seems to be one of few area school districts not looking for more space.

In Mankato, district and city officials continue to project a steady increase in Mankato’s population. In response, the Mankato Area Public School District recently announced its plan to approach voters with a bond referendum for a new elementary school in the spring.

And although facility projects in surrounding school districts don’t approach the $35 million Mankato would likely need for a new elementary school, there are still things to be done. The Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial and Waseca districts have their eyes on more space while St. Peter and Maple River are planning maintenance projects.

“We have larger numbers of 3- and 4-year-olds than what we’ve had in the past,” said LCWM Supt. Les Norman. “And we really need to focus on those enrollments coming at us.”

The LCWM School District passed a bond referendum in 2004 — after six previous failed attempts. The measure was hotly debated because of LCWM’s declining enrollments. But numbers seem to be on the rebound.

Along with its new $18 million secondary school, Norman said enrollments are again increasing at the preschool level. With no available classroom space to expand early childhood programming, a space shortage is inevitable if the problem isn’t relieved.

And although discussions won’t begin in earnest until January, options will probably include moving early education programs off-site and leasing space, utilizing non-used space at the district’s Garden City site or building an early childhood center.

Norman, however, said he appreciates the sting of tax increases and will exhaust all options that don’t require public funding first.

“As far as going for new buildings, I think we’re pretty well tapped out,” Norman said. “The School Board is very sensitive to financial impacts.”

The Waseca School District is also in the earliest phases of its search for more space.

Discussions began when gymnastics and wrestling boosters approached Supt. John Rokke about wanting better facilities. But Rokke knew he wasn’t the only one in Waseca looking for more space.

So a meeting was called between various community groups, booster clubs and school officials. The result was a joint agreement to pursue the option of a community center.

“We are going to go to each group and put together an interest summary, hopefully as soon as February,” Rokke said. “Then we’ll see what the plan is. ... But we’ve had tremendous support at preliminary meetings.”

The St. Peter School District also is considering the idea of a bond referendum — but not for more space. Although St. Peter does anticipate moderate enrollment gains in the near future, Supt. Jeff Olson said the district has plenty of room.

But Olson did say that a $2 million to $3 million bond may be needed for maintenance projects. Roofs, boilers, plumbing and some technological equipment all need attention, Olson said.

“It would really be a mistake to find yourself in five years with major needs and no way to deal with them,” Olson said. “It’s good due diligence to be looking at and discussing options now.”

Maple River is in much the same boat. Having no large enrollment increases on the horizon, Supt. Willis Schoeb said the district is trying to funnel money into a deferred maintenance budget to account for potential projects down the road.

“I’m just trying to maintain the status quo,” Schoeb said.

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