City council paves way for Edina High School addition

Sean Plemmons
Edina Community Editor

The Edina City Council voted unanimously to approve a conditional-use permit for Edina Public Schools to use for the 142,000-square-foot addition to Edina High School at the Feb. 17 city council meeting. The vote came after the council tweaked a city staff-recommended resolution of the project.

The construction of the addition will begin in spring 2016 and will be completed in fall 2017. The district is planning to move the high school to a 9-12 grade system, and students from Valley View and South View Middle School will move into the high school to occupy the upcoming edition.

At the Feb. 17 meeting, Community Development Director Cary Teague presented a report by the planning commission’s, which recommended approval of the project based conditions the school board would need to adhere to. One of the biggest changes the city wanted the school district to follow was realignment of the western-most entrance to make a four-way intersection and crosswalks with Chapel Lane, essentially to increase pedestrian safety.

At the meeting, Edina Public Schools Superintendent Ric Dressen said the district was prepared to complete a traffic study of the area before making any alignment changes or pedestrian walkway changes. He also said the district did not yet have the funding secured to complete such a study or to make changes to the west entrance. The district would be able to complete the traffic study as early as 2018 and have funding to make any changes by 2020 or 2021.

“We don’t yet know what the increase of traffic from the additional ninth-graders will be,” Dressen said. “We want to use actual vehicle counts to make stronger recommendations.”

The city also recommended the school district install down-lit or “cut off” lighting in parking areas to meet city code regulations. Dressen said the district would not be able to complete all the city recommended lighting requirements, but it could install the down-lit lighting in essential areas and work in future funding to finish the remaining down-lit lighting.

The biggest concern was future realignment of the west entrance. Though the council approved the conditional-use permit, it did so by amending the city staff recommendation and replacing it with the school district’s recommendation of a traffic study.

Following Dressen’s presentation, the council opened up the matter for a public hearing. Resident Betty Bullion, who lives near Chapel Lane, was concerned with aligning the entrance of the school exit and Chapel Lane.

“Have you talked to anyone in our neighborhood about this?” Bullion asked. “I know the student and pedestrian safety is a big concern, but I can guarantee you that if that is done, you will have students driving into our neighborhood. You will have parents driving into our neighborhood. Every athletic event, every concert. It could become a free for all.”

Bullion was pleased the school district was willing to study the traffic before making a change. She suggested that the city put a flashing light signal up instead for pedestrians, which the council members thought might work.

Speaking about a possible traffic alignment, Councilmember Bob Stewart said it would be necessary to look at alternatives to alignment of the entrance and Chapel Lane.

“It’s important to understand the ramifications of such an alignment,” Stewart said. “Increased traffic in that neighborhood could definitely affect the quality of life there.”

After discussion, the council members decided to strike out the city staff recommendation and agree to let the school district conduct a traffic study in 2018.

However, before the vote, Councilmember Ann Swenson implored Dressen to complete the traffic study and changes as quickly as possible.

“I appreciate the fact that you want to do a study,” Swenson said. “If there’s something we want to do we want to do it as quickly as possible […] If we can do it as expediently as possible it would be great.”

Edina resident Frank Lorenz voiced concerns about the project costing more than the already allotted tax dollars. He was also unsure if new security locks would prevent a school shooting. He also didn’t know if the land would be able to support the new building addition (a Wold Architect employee later said the land was more than sufficient to hold the new building.)

“In addition to this project being unnecessary, it’s going to turn into the boondoggle of all boondoggles,” Lorenz said. “My friends are betting that by the time this project gets done, it won’t be $102 million, but it’ll end up being $180 million. I’m going to ask you to do something totally illegal ,which is to have the city and its technical people act as a Guardian ad Litem for this construction project so it doesn’t go completely down the drain.”

The city rejected that notion and moved forward with the vote.

The school district will begin construction in the spring as part of its next generation facilities construction. Nearly all of the schools in the district will under construction or renovation in 2016-17.

Contact Sean Plemmons at [email protected] or follow the Sun Current on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent