July 8, 2010 at 8:51 a.m.

Proposed charter school at Ojiketa gets cool reception from Chisago City planning commission

Proposed charter school at Ojiketa gets cool reception from Chisago City planning commission
Proposed charter school at Ojiketa gets cool reception from Chisago City planning commission

Representatives for an arts charter school met some resistance to their plan to use three buildings in Ojiketa Regional Park. Chisago City planning commission members last week were hesitant to give the charter school concept their approval.

Fine Arts Charter School spokesperson Robert Meyer is listed on memo stationary given to the commission in its packet as the chairman of the charter school board. He is reportedly affiliated with Minnesota Art Center in Blaine. Meyer was accompanied by an associate. They presented a concept plan by DeVetter Design, Minneapolis, to the six-member planning commission.

The two said they wanted at this point only to guage if Chisago City is open to the idea of remodeling the three buildings, and then leasing them for charter school instructional space. It wasn't even decided at this juncture who pays for the structural work.

Planning commissioner Mark Anderson clearly expressed his opposition.

Anderson said he'd like the city park board to review this and make a recommendation. He saw problems with public use of Ojiketa when charter school classes are in session. He added, "It was a hard enough sell to get people to support the city buying Ojiketa in the first place, I am not going to tell people they can't use it (the camp)."

Planning Commission Chair Chris DuBose added that being from Michigan he's very familiar with the arts program the charter school is inspired by, and that he fully supports their mission, but he has reservations about the work proposed on the buildings and the lease.

Planning Commissioner Roger Trivette cautioned that the state grant funding that facilitated the city's purchase of the 70-acre former CampFire camp may have restrictions attached disallowing altering historic structures.

Detailed designing and any permits required won't happen for at least a month or so, Meyer said. "With modifications (to Zonta Lodge and Strom Hall and the chapel) we feel the buildings can serve our purpose." Meyer stressed the changes are to the interior for the most part and will be "low impact" and respect the historic character and natural materials.

The Arts Charter School is based on the Interlachen system in Michigan, with a nod to the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN. It could offer a joint curriculum (Chinese language) sharing administration and instructors from a Concordia facility operating at Wilder Nature Center, in north Washington County, added Meyer.

The charter is planning a 45-15 school year calendar which rotates students through a schedule of 45 days at class and 15 off, and runs year 'round.

Meyer said arts funding is available through Minnesota's Legacy Amendment (dedicated sales tax) and that "...this is providing an opportunity to offer what is becoming more and more a specialized" component of public education. He said as public schools cut budgets and eliminate music and arts instruction, the demand is growing from families seeking stronger arts exposure.

Chisago City Administrator John Pechman explained, "We have a long ways to go between looking at pictures to signing a lease. This is our attempt to start the process." He continued, "...now the city has something to go off of," and agreed with planning commission members concerns that this is not a "typical" proposal the city usually deals with.

The charter school spokespeople were advised to schedule a date with the Chisago City Park Board. Staff will also check any conditions or restrictions that might be in the grant documents.


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