SAUK RAPIDS - A community task force will recommend in June that the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District build a fourth elementary school and replace Pleasantview Elementary with a new building.

Sauk Rapids-Rice is grappling with space concerns due to growing enrollment numbers (the district has grown by 800 students within the last six years). The State Demographer adds district enrollment is expected to increase by as much as 17.3 percent in the next five to ten years.

Two of the District's elementary buildings (Mississippi Heights and Pleasantview) are already at or near capacity. There are nearly 1,000 students attending Mississippi Heights. Pleasantview has also become the District's most expensive school to maintain.

Open enrollment, which generates $5 million for the district annually, is also a contributing factor. However, the task force says even if open enrollment were stopped, classroom space would still be needed due to the growing local population.

With these factors in mind, the task force will make the following facility recommendations to the school board on June 20th:

  1. Build a fourth elementary school on property already owned by the district next to the high school. The school would accommodate 622 students.
  2. Expand preschool and early childhood at Hillside and Rice Elementary.
  3. At Rice Elementary, consider adding multi-purpose space. Possibly update playground equipment.
  4. Rather than spend $8-$9 million on maintenance at Pleasantview (plus costs to increase security), replace it with a new school at the same location. Pleasantview students could attend the new elementary building temporarily while this new school is built. They would transfer back to Pleasantview when construction was finished.
  5. Add athletic facilities to the High School. These were scheduled to happen after the building was put up in 2003, but wasn't completed due to a lack of money from the State.
  6. Complete a comprehensive security assessment and complete security updates at each site to meet new standards.
  7. Increase accessibility for students and families with disabilities at each site. Specifically: upgrades to bathrooms, elementary playgrounds and high school athletic fields.

Superintendent Dan Bittman emphasizes the ideas are subject to change from the board and from community feedback.

Nearly 1,000 students attend Mississippi Heights Elementary. (Dan DeBaun, WJON)

"District officials, architects and building experts want to solicit information from staff, community, and business leaders to refine proposals and prepare accurate estimates," an email sent to the community says.

Bittman emphasized it's too early to put an accurate price tag on the task force proposal, until adjustments and security standards are put into place. Some projected costs are provided on the district's website (click here).

"There is much work to do between now and June so accurate information can be shared with the Board and community members in terms of approximate costs, details, and options," the email from Bittman says.

Any potential referendum wouldn't be held until May 2017 or November 2017. Bittman says they would spend much of the next school year holding listening sessions to gather community feedback. The school board still has the option to accept, reject or modify the community group proposal.

If a referendum were held in May, the majority of construction would be finished by the 2020 school year.