We thank the community for their support and input on the plans to relocate RiverEast School, which serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade, to 1050 Kent St. N.
As part of this relocation, the district will be coordinating the clean up of an environmentally polluted site that has sat empty for about a decade; more details on this are outlined below.
We have now entered the implementation phase of the RiverEast plan and will continue to involve the community to get input on certain aspects of the project, such as traffic flow, site access, landscape design, and possibly, public art in the future.
Note: Updates to the FAQ below has been noted with a date and in red font.
1. What is RiverEast Elementary and Secondary School’s program focus?
RiverEast is a city-wide, K-8 special education school that provides a therapeutic and supportive educational environment for students with a mental health diagnosis. The majority of students have a disability designation of an “Emotional Behavior Disorder” which means they have needs in the area of social and emotional development.
Per federal law, school districts must provide students who are in need of special education services for “more than 50 percent of the school day” with what the government calls a “Setting 04 - Public Separate Facility.” This is to provide students with extensive special education needs with in-depth, focused resources and supports. However, the needs of each student is continually assessed so that as they make adequate progress in their academic and social and emotional development, students are moved to a less restrictive environment which can be provided in traditional community schools; however, students continue to receive special education services, as needed, at their new school.
2. Is RiverEast a brand new school for SPPS?
No. RiverEast has been a part of the district for many years and is currently located at 1845 Sheridan Avenue.
3. Why is RiverEast School moving to a new location?
There are many reasons that the RiverEast program is being relocated: 1) The move provides SPPS with an opportunity to relocate RiverEast, which is a city-wide program, to a more central location. 2) The move allows the district to remodel the current building and grounds to provide its students and staff with a welcoming and healing environment that is aligned with the district’s new facility standards that define consistency, value and quality across SPPS facilities as they are maintained, improved or built. 3) A single-story structure, such as the building at the Kent site, is ideal for students with physical disabilities. 4) Another SPPS school, Jie Ming Mandarin Immersion Academy, is being moved into the building currently occupied by RiverEast to accommodate that school’s growing student enrollment.
4. Why was the 1050 Kent St. N. selected for the school’s relocation site?
Among the reasons that 1050 Kent St. N. was selected is that, overall, it is centrally located within the city while still being located in a quiet, residential neighborhood. A quiet location is conducive to the needs of RiverEast students who thrive in calm environments and also provides a safer location for students since it is sheltered from busy streets.
5. When exactly did the Board of Education vote on buying the Kent Street location?
The meetings to buy the Kent property was decided at an open, public meeting. The Board of Education approved the proposal to relocate RiverEast School from its current location at their regular meeting on April 26, 2016. The Board of Education approved the Purchase Agreement to buy 1050 Kent St. N. at their regular meeting on August 23, 2016. Both of those meetings were open to the public, broadcast on cable and streamed live on the internet. There was a closed meeting on July 12, 2016, for the Board of Education to issue strategic negotiating guidance for multiple properties under consideration which is done to ensure the school district can effectively negotiate purchasing terms with property owners.
6. Why were neighbors not informed of the decision prior to the Board of Education voting to purchase the Kent St. property?
SPPS’ first and primary obligation is to serve the best interests of its students. As such, when selecting a location for a particular school many factors must be taken into account such as size and location among other factors that may optimize a school’s particular program specialty and needs.
RiverEast School’s relocation site was selected based on many months of research and the exploration of 41 different sites. Given the breadth of the site exploration, and the district’s primary mission to provide the best education possible for each student, it was not feasible to engage neighbors in each of these communities as a means of informing a final decision on RiverEast’s new location.
It should be noted that more than a thousand people were engaged throughout the course of our Facilities Master Planning, which created a vision for SPPS facilities to meet the strategic needs of the district for the next 10 years. While immediate neighbors of 1050 Kent St. N. might not have been part of that process, there was broad stakeholder input that informed the parameters that led to the relocation of RiverEast.
7. Isn’t 1050 Kent St. N. a polluted site? Is it safe to build a school at this location?
The previous printing and packaging business located at this site had solvent tanks that leaked into the ground; the site has been abandoned for about a decade.
SPPS will be cleaning the site of all ground pollutants in full compliance with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rules and regulations. This site will be remediated to residential standards that are safe for children and families.
8. New - posted on Oct. 11, 2016: How will spps ensure the safe cleanup of the ground contaminants on this site?
SPPS will ensure the safe cleanup of the subsurface contaminants left on the site from the previous industrial company that occupied the building and land. On September 14, the district submitted a Voluntary Response Action Plan & Construction Contingency Plan to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency with a detailed account of the extent of the contamination; proposed plans to mitigate these effects; and contingency plan for addressing any unforeseen contamination.
Related to the site contaminants, per legal action, the district has submitted a proposal to WestRock CP, LLC, the successor of the original owner, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, to lift the deed restriction that was placed by Smurfit-Stone Container banning non-industrial uses of the site. The action states that the district will enroll the site into the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Voluntary Investigation and Clean-up Program to undertake the necessary clean-up as required by the state to ensure the safe use of the site for non-industrial purposes. The restriction would be lifted once the site is cleaned up.
The district is also in the process of submitting a grant application to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), with the City of Saint Paul, to secure funding specifically to support the cleanup of site contaminants. If SPPS does not secure the DEED grant, it will use existing district funds to clear the site.
9. Since the school is being relocated into a residential setting, won’t SPPS need to file variances and conditional use permits with the City of St. Paul?
No variances or conditional use permits are anticipated because the use and building design are within the zoning requirements of the city rules.
10. New - Oct. 11, 2016: How will busing, parking and traffic issues overall be addressed?
At the District 6 Planning Council Land Use Task Force on Sept. 27, 2016, information was shared that 8 buses are expected to serve the school twice a day during drop off and pick up times on school days. The buses will drop off/pick up students on the north side of the building on school grounds. All students, up to 80 total, are expected to arrive by bus. Ample off street parking will be provided on site and/or through a sharing agreement with Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for staff and visitor use.
11. New - Oct. 11, 2016: How will having this school in the neighborhood affect real estate values?
In general, schools have a positive impact on property values, especially when contrasted with a polluted, vacant unuseable industrial site.
12. New - Oct. 11, 2016: What is the property tax impact to homeowners for relocating this school?
As for the impact on property taxes, the cost of relocating and remodeling RiverEast is part of a broader Long Term Facilities Maintenance and Capital Improvement Investments process the district is doing to update its 72 buildings, 7.3 million square feet of space and 465 acres of land. This comprehensive facilities improvement investment is expected to increase the median home’s ($151,500) taxes by approximately $30 each year.
13. New - posted on Oct. 11, 2016: Are RiverEast families involved in the school?
Like any other SPPS school, RiverEast families are involved through school events and student conferences. SPPS always encourages and welcomes family engagement.
14. New - posted on Oct. 11, 2016: What types of behaviors lead to suspensions?
The district outlines what types of behaviors may result in suspensions in its Students Right and Responsibilities Handbook.
15. New - Oct. 11, 2016: Will the city install sidewalks now that a school is coming to the area?
SPPS will install sidewalks on the new school site, both on Kent and Mackubin. Based on legal statute, SPPS is not able to pay to create sidewalks on property not owned by the district. The creation or expansion of sidewalks is a City of St. Paul decision; however, based on a preliminary site review with the City it was noted that as part of a construction project planned by the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, the church would likely be expected to add sidewalks on Mackubin. The City did not plan to have any other sidewalks added to the streets around the school.
16. New - Oct. 11, 2016: What will the district do to ensure outdoor lightning will not be a nuisance to neighbors?
Pedestrian scale lighting is already in place on the site and new lighting for the site such as for the playground and parking lot will be focused onto the site to avoid excess light shining on neighboring property.
17. When will the new school construction begin and end?
The school will open in the fall of 2018 in time for the 2018-19 school year. Though it is subject to change, the overall timeline of the project is as follows:
October 15, 2016: Environmental remediation begins including the removal of contaminated soil and asbestos in the existing structure.
TBD: Selective demolition begins; it is anticipated that some of the existing building structure will be reused, though large areas will be removed.
TBD: New construction begins with footings and foundations.
September 2018: School opens.