Swan River Montessori Charter School wants to expand facilities

Swan River Montessori Charter School wants to construct a new, separate building in Monticello across Maple Street to the west of the school’s current site.

The Monticello City Council and the Monticello Planning Commission conducted a joint meeting Dec. 18 to consider a “public values statement” that would be required as part of a planned unit development (PUD) that would permit Swan River  to expand the facility on a separate site, but continue to share common facilities such as parking, student drop-off, and other site elements without providing separate support facilities on two parcels.

A planned unit development is required for the proposed use due to the interaction of the two sites.

The first step in the PUD process is for the applicant’s preliminary materials to be reviewed by city staff in a pre-application meeting. That meeting was held in mid-November.

The next step, the collaborative process defined by the city’s PUD ordinance, begins with a joint meeting with the planning Commission and council, during which a public values statement is developed.

The public values statement is intended to lay out the common objectives held by both the city and developer. The purpose of the PUD zoning district is to provide greater flexibility in the development of neighborhoods and non- residential areas in order to maximize public values and achieve more creative development outcomes.

Principal Stephen Grittman with Northwest Associated Consultants, representing the city, provided additional project background during the Dec. 18 meeting.

The new building will be used for classroom and office space, in conjunction with school activities in the existing building, Grittman stated in a council background memo.

A part of the new building will accommodate large meeting and music space that is not available in the current building, as well as outdoor space. No increase in student population is planned as a result of the expansion – the new building space is intended to supplement the existing curriculum.

Swan River Montessori Charter School (SRMCS) is governed by its own school board comprised of teachers, parents and community members. SRMCS received its charter from the state of Minnesota in the fall of 2004. The Swan River Building Corp. worked with Sunny Fresh (Cargill) and the city of Monticello to move the historic Little Mountain Church to a site at 500 Maple St. and build a school onto the church.

SRMCS opened in August 2005 in rented rooms at the Monticello Community Center. Eric Miller is a board member with SRCS Building Co. He represented the school during the Dec. 18 meeting and provided additional details about the project. Swan River currently has 148 students, he said, but there are 260 students on the school’s waiting list.

About 40 percent of Swan River’s students come from within the Monticello School District 882 and the other 60 percent come from Buffalo, Becker and Big Lake. “We are financially sound,” Miller said. “The building board has a very positive cash flow. Cargill helped the school in the past. They’er good with this project.”

According to Miller, special education students make up almost 30 percent of Swan River’s enrollment. Traditional public schools typically have 13 percent.

“We want to make this one-story building as green as possible,” Miller said, referring to the 48-foot by 80-foot building that would provide additional space. Swan River also wants to add an art and environmental science space which the school currently lacks. Two outdoor gazebos will also add additional functional space.

“We need these spaces to promote a better learning experience for our current enrollees,” Miller wrote his project narrative. “This is not a paged plan to expand the school. We want to be a good neighbor,” he added during discussion, also stating the new building will feature as many green construction options as possible, namely a metal roof and native landscaping as well as geothermal cooling.

Swan River also wants a crosswalk to be included in its project, and curb bump-in space for parking or deliveries. Construction at 503 Maple Street would start in April and be completed by Sept. 1, 2014.

According to Miller, approximately 100 children are picked up and dropped off daily at the current Swan River site. Schumann said that the Monticello Building Department did check with the state regarding the proposed building and further review of Swan River’s project will occur.

Schumman also said there will be two public hearings during the project’s concept and development stages. Grittman wrapped up the discussion by stating landscaping, building design, the crosswalk and traffic control were key points addressed by council members and planning commission members.

“It sounds like there is general agreement [regarding the project] and a baseline for the applicant to move ahead,” Grittman said. Swan River could submit its PUD application to the city, he said.

The formal values statement would be refined and brought back to the Monticello council and planning commission as a working guide plan to the school project, Grittman said.
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]