PLYMOUTH — The Oakwood Elementary School expansion project caused conflict between the Wayzata School Board, school district and Plymouth City Council as the groups worked to move the project forward.

The project proposes adding 44,000 square feet of building, including a new gymnasium, a front office and a two-story Early Learning Center to the elementary school, according to documents included in the Sept. 10 Plymouth City Council packet.

The Plymouth City Council, the Wayzata School Board’s Finance Committee and members of the school district met for a joint work session on Sept. 10 before the Plymouth City Council meeting to discuss the project and issues that threatened to delay the project, costing taxpayers. The City Council then approved the project, paving the way for construction to begin at the school.

Baseball field

Several issues have plagued the Oakwood Elementary School expansion causing its delay. One issue creating opposition to the project is the baseball field at the school, which will be removed during construction.

The field is the only one in the district with lighting that allows games to be played after dark. It is also the largest in the district.

The lights in question are owned by the city of Plymouth rather than the Wayzata Public School District, adding more questions for the City Council about where the lights will be moved since there is not another baseball field within the city and district.

The city and the school district operate under two main agreements affecting the field — a joint powers agreement that is set to expire in July 2020 and a maintenance agreement that has been lapsed since 2015.

With the Oakwood expansion project, the joint powers agreement would be broken because construction would start as soon as this month, making the field unusable.

The Plymouth Wayzata Youth Baseball Association — primarily made up of parents of baseball players — recently put $30,000 into the field for dugouts and batting cages. The association expressed concerns about this at the Aug. 27 City Council meeting. Members of the association were also present at the joint work session on Sept. 10.

The lapsed maintenance agreement was also a sticking point for many members of the City Council who felt the agreement should have been updated before it lapsed.

“I just want to share the frustration we’ve had as a city and as a City Council that this agreement has lapsed for going on four years now and we continue to operate on good faith,” City Council member Nick Roehl said during the Sept. 10 joint work session. “I feel like this item should have been cleared up by now and you shouldn’t have let this go this far and that was part of the frustration that we have here today, that if this was cleared up in a timely manner, we may not be here.”

Poor communication

The Wayzata School District planned to start construction on the Oakwood expansion project on Monday, Sept 9, to avoid delays due to winter weather and to time the opening of the new Early Learning Center with the end of the district’s lease on the current Early Learning Center at 1461 County Road 101 in Plymouth.

Construction has not begun on the project because it was not approved by the City Council until Sept. 10.

The Plymouth City Council last looked at the Oakwood Elementary expansion plan at its Aug. 27 meeting. The City Council voted to delay voting on the project until its Oct. 8 meeting because City Council members felt they did not have enough information about the project due to poor communication from between Wayzata Public Schools staff, school board members and the Plymouth City Council.

The City Council held a joint work session on Sept. 10 to get more information about the expansion project. The district informed the City Council at the Sept. 10 joint work session that if it did not approve the permit on Oct. 8 it would likely add a cost of $500,000 to the project.

The cost is due to winter conditions including dirt freezing and the contractor then requiring fresh, warm soil to be shipped to the site, Executive Director of Business and Finance for Wayzata Schools Jim Westrum said during the meeting.

The delay would also displace the Early Learning Center, Director of Administrative Services for the Wayzata School District Kristin Tollison said during the meeting. The district’s lease would end before the new Early Learning Center would be complete or the school would have to pay for an entire year’s lease for the current center’s space — despite only needing it for part of the year.

After stern words levied at the Wayzata School Board and staff from several City Council members at the Sept. 10 work session, the council added the conditional use permit to the Sept. 10 City Council meeting agenda.

The permit resolution passed with six yes votes to one no vote. Council member Jim Davis voted no on the permit, saying he did not believe the City Council was given enough time to discuss and think about the project.

Construction on the expansion project can start as soon as a week, pending permits and the awarding of construction bids.

The project will cost $16 million and will be paid for by existing funding sources.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.


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