North St. Paul Community Center transitions to community school

The District 622 School Board recently approved a 27-month lease of the North St. Paul Community Center. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Fitness center,  library to remain open

Though the fate of the North St. Paul Community Center has been unclear for several months, the financially troubled facility has finally found a renter with big plans for its use.

School District 622’s 27-month lease of the city-owned community center began March 1, starting a “transition period” for the building.

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district plans to move its grades 11 and 12 alternative learning program from Harmony Learning Center to the community center in September 2013. Until then, the school district and North St. Paul will work together to determine exactly what needs to be done to the 21-year-old building to make it operable for both students and the public.

North St. Paul Public Works Director Scott Duddeck assured residents that the fitness center, track and open gym will remain available for public use, and memberships will be sold at least until the end of the year.

“The community center is still open for members, and the city is staffing the building. The fitness center will operate as it has and memberships will continue to be sold on a month-to-month basis,” Duddeck said.

Joe Richter, the principal of District 622 alternative programs, had his eye on the community center as soon as he learned it was to be leased.

“This was a huge win for the district,” Richter said. “When we were going to let it go (in November 2012) I thought, ‘This doesn’t make sense; this is too good of a place!’”

“We’re going to maintain the community center aspects,” Richter added. “We want to build on the assets here.”

Informational meetings have been scheduled on March 27 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the community center for the public to discuss the new plans for the facility. The building is located at 2290 N. First St., on the west end of the downtown district.

A focus on learning

Richter emphasized the importance of education at the soon-to-be-renamed “North St. Paul Community School.”

“We’re going to start small and grow our programs,” Richter said. “We have lots of ideas, but we have to figure out how it all works first.”

The school will focus on about 24 alternative learning students to start, increasing the number to 75 to 100 by the end of the year.

Literacy, career training and wellness will be three of the focus areas for the community school.

A small Ramsey County branch library occupies the northeast corner of the community center, and it will remain open to the public.

“We have a great resource here-the Ramsey County Library,” Richter said. “We want to increase the library’s usage, and we’re looking to expand their hours.” Richter also expressed interest in creating a separate adolescent literacy area in the room the library currently uses for children’s story time.

“We really want to unify library and school resources,” Richter said.

Work-based learning will also part of the building’s focus on education. The fitness center and Polar Den coffee shop will function as opportunities for students to gain valuable work experience.

“We want to engage these kids in something,” Richter said. “Every student at the community school will be in a job program or educational program here.”

In addition to work experience, the fitness center will function as a wellness training tool.

Relieving a district “space crunch”

Richter hopes to be able to help district schools and athletes find space for their activities at the community school.

“We have a gym (in the community center). That can help offset a space crunch for our athletic facilities. It could also be used for adaptive physical education programs that are currently housed at North High School,” Richter said.

He added that the District 622 Education Center is struggling with meeting space and parking needs.

“The community center has a large conference room. The district has a lot of meeting needs, and there’s just not enough space at the Education Center. We could rent (the conference room) out to community members as well,” Richter added.

By moving the alternative learning program from Harmony Learning Center to the community center, the district now has room to bring students with special needs and emotional behavior disorder back into a district facility. The tuition savings of doing so saves the district over $1 million per year, which will cover the $450,000 cost of the 27-month lease, among other redesigns of district facilities and programs.

A lasting partnership

Although the District 622 lease will be up for renewal in June 2015, both parties hope to be able to continue their partnership for many years to come.

“We believe that the district holds the same intentions and goals we have, and both hope this will be permanent,” Duddeck said. “(The city and the district) will be working in conjunction to create a new community asset.”

Richter is confident the partnership between the city and the district will continue to be successful for years to come.

“Can we straddle both worlds? I think we can,” Richter said. “We’re developing partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Neither of us can do it alone.”

He expressed gratitude to the school officials who made the lease possible.

“I’m glad my supervisors were willing to take a risk to let us be creative, and they have provided great support.”

Johanna Holub can be reached at or 651-748-7814.

Current community center hours:
Monday-Friday 5:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Summer hours will be posted by April 1.
Memberships will continue to be sold through December 31, 2013.

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