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School district meets with city P&Z

By Staff | Apr 12, 2019

The Rugby Public School District made its case for closing a street and rerouting an alley to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission Monday evening at Rugby’s City Hall.

The commission, however, felt more information was needed before it could make a yes or no recommendation.

School District Superintendent Mike McNeff presented “the why” behind the district’s request to close 3rd Ave SW in front of Ely Elementary and reroute the alley between 3rd Ave and Highway 3 so that it turns north onto 2nd St SW.

In his presentation, McNeff explained that Ely Elementary’s current enrollment is at 330 students, which was short of a projection of 345 for this year from an RSP & Associates enrollment study. However, RSP projected 351 students for the 2019-20 school year and 360 in 2020-21. Enrollment would be projected to fall to 344 in the 2021-22 term, but the school would pick up three more students in 2022-23.

RSP projected more than 60 kids would be in Kindergarten this year. (Of which the school has offered three full-time sections since 2009.) RSP also projected between 55 and 60 students in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years and less than 55 in 2021-22 and 2022-23.

“I would argue everyone of our classrooms is full,” McNeff said.

McNeff explained that in addition to three full-time sections of Kindergarten, education changes at Ely included increased needs for special education services, an emphasis on smaller class sizes, and more personalized teaching and learning.

McNeff showed blueprints of the school with indications on where classrooms are currently.

McNeff said the N.D. Department of Public Instruction does not have a recommendation for square footage per student for elementary schools, and that the nearest state that does is Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Education recommended 125 to 150 square feet per student for schools with enrollment of below 500 students. Ely’s current square footage is 113 per student.

McNeff showed a slide as to the capacity of each school in the district. Ely was at 107 percent capacity, while the pre-kindergarten/Early Learning Center was at 88 percent and the high school at 58 percent.

McNeff said a Citizens Committee had been created in late 2018 to gather information and make recommendations. The committee met in November and December 2018 and twice in February. The committee made the recommendation to close 3rd Ave SW between the school and district-owned property across the street, and to reroute the alley.

McNeff said there had been two meetings with property owners in that area, one on Oct. 4, 2018, and the other on March 13.

Rugby resident Peg Stadum questioned whether the district was aware of traffic on 2nd St SW and its busyness, and whether residents’ concerns about alley access had been “lost in translation.”

McNeff said the enrollment figures was a “good problem” for the community to have and that the district was trying to create a solution that would work for all parties.

“But we’re stuck downtown on an acre-and-a-half,” McNeff said.

Stadum went on to question aspects of a proposed addition, including an “illogical” parking lot; whether environmental barriers would be in place to prevent exhaust fumes from parked cars from getting into vents; and drainage of water coming from snowmelt from the railroad tracks and down to the Church of Latter Day Saints and the former Community Baptist Church building.

The addition would convert the current cafeteria into a special education suite, create a student commons area, and would create more classrooms on the second level.

However, McNeff said he wanted to address pickup and dropoff and safety concerns, which was Phase 1. Phase 2 would be the remodel/addition, which McNeff said “isn’t a done deal.”

Rugby Mayor and commission member Sue Steinke questioned whether a traffic study had been done, and whether the district had blocked the intersection of 3rd Ave SW and 3rd St SW, as the Rugby City Council had granted them permission to do so on Sept. 8, 2015. McNeff said the district chose not to. Ely Principal Jason Gullickson said that with concerns about traffic going through barricades and with no fencing for a lot near that intersection, the logistics and liability concerns were just too great.

Jim Olson, a project manager for AE2S (Advanced Engineering & Environmental Services), asked if and when a site development plan would be available for review.

Steinke said the next step for the school district would be for them and their engineers to meet with city staff and contracted engineers and discuss water, storm sewer and infrastructure issues that would need to be solved before an alley reroute and street closure could be addressed.

“Right now we’re in limbo here,” Steinke said, adding the commission had “nothing concrete.”

Rugby resident David Zwingel said that of the eight homes in that neighborhood, only two have access to their garages and that backing and turning onto Highway 3 was a concern. Zwingel asked the commission to consider sound and noise, snow removal, the width of the proposed turn and other safety concerns related to the alley reroute.

The commission had approved minutes from a prior meeting. The commission meets on the second Monday of each month.

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