Lindbergh Schools purchases Dressel building to address enrollment upswing

Staff Report

Lindbergh Schools officials last week closed on the $1.94 million purchase of the Dressel School building, which sits on roughly 10 acres at 10255 Musick Road.

As first reported online July 26 by the Call, the purchase of the Dressel School building will allow Lindbergh to address enrollment projections that show a districtwide increase of nearly 450 students by 2015.

Board members voted 6-0 during a June 1 closed session to purchase the property.

Board member Mark Rudoff participated in the meeting by telephone and could not vote under the provisions of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law.

Two independent studies commissioned by the board have confirmed that very little open land is available within Lindbergh boundaries to address the increase in student population that is anticipated over the next four years, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.

“… We’re actually at a point in this district that if we were forced through growth to build a campus without Dressel I don’t know where it would possibly go,” he told the Call. “And I know that we’re financially incapable and politically incapable of tearing down 10 acres of houses … We can’t use eminent domain because we won’t.

“We can’t afford to pay for all those homes at market value and then tear them down the next day. We can’t afford to do that,” Simpson said, adding that renovating Dressel will cost exponentially less than buying land at commercial rate and building a brand new facility.

The projected increase in enrollment is backing the school district into a corner, he said.

“So Dressel gets us one chess move out of the corner. There is no chess move after that — yet … (With) the growth rate that we’re hitting, we’ll have 500 kids to put on the Dressel site in five to eight years just as sure as the sun rising,” Simpson said. “And one of our concerns is it will come quicker than that … It’s just that constant drumbeat of growth that little by little by little, it starts to adding up to 70, 80, a hundred a year in these students year after year after year, and next thing you know, you’ve got 500 students.”

Without additional space, the projected enrollment increase would cause Lindbergh’s class sizes to exceed Missouri state maximum standards and threaten student achievement and test scores that are currently ranked No. 1 in the state, Simpson said.

“If your goal is to have your schools at a good size — 500 is a great size for an elementary. You can have full services and have all you need and not have excess. So we’ll have that in five to eight years and the other in the corner thing is we’ve already ‘winged’ out every building we have …,” the superintendent said.

Any effort to add on to existing buildings would result in eliminating necessary green space on those campuses, he said.

Asked about the district’s immediate plans for the Dressel building, Simpson said it will be used to house many of Lindbergh’s ancillary programs.

“… It will turn into a beehive of activity the day we close on it … We’ve got a lot of programs that are bursting at the seams right now and are sort of jerry-rigged in different parts of our district, and those programs will have a home,” he said. “So Dressel not becoming a 500-student elementary off the bat will become a lot of people in the parking lot, a lot of people in the building — all day, every day …

“One of our major gifted programs, LEAP (Lindbergh Eager Achievers Program), is going over there. Our mega-young child athletics program, LAA (Lindbergh Athletic Program), which has sort of been shoehorned into Truman, is going over there …,” he said, adding that Dressel also will be used for document storage, creating more classroom space.

“… So a beehive of activity will happen at Dressel and all these loose ends we can put together and really help improve the effectiveness of our district,” Simpson said. “… There’s a lot of great things that we have planned for Dressel. It’s going to be exciting to see that building come alive again as a public education building.”

Having Dressel house those ancillary programs will fill “a great need,” he said, but the purchase of the roughly 10-acre campus “is the chess move we need to handle our mounting student enrollment growth problem. We’ve got to have a place to put another school in five to eight years. If we don’t, then all that will happen is our class sizes will grow to the point that no one’s happy with the level of classes — teachers, parents, no one …

“And like I said, we just hope the growth stays at the level it is, which is fairly aggressive and not all of a sudden when this housing and recession trouble gets over that all of a sudden we start picking up double that rate of growth, and that would push things a lot faster …”

By 2015, Lindbergh’s enrollment is expected to exceed 6,000 students for the first time in 30 years. The last time enrollment was 6,111 was in 1981-1982 and student population was declining. As a result, the school board voted to close Dressel, Fenton, Concord and Watson schools.

Selling Dressel has saved taxpayers more than $1 million since then in maintenance and operating costs.

The district’s purchase of the Dressel site from Bible Chapel was financed by selling lease-purchase bonds, a state program that allows government organizations to purchase property and buildings, Simpson told the Call. The selling of these bonds did not affect the district’s tax rate, and Lindbergh did not have to use any reserve funds to underwrite the purchase.

“… It’s not a tax increase for any of our patrons,” he said. “Not one dollar was put into Dressel that could have gone into any part of our school system — teacher salaries or supplies or anything … It did not come out of our balances. I know our balances are concerning to me. They’re low and our focus is to build those back up. And so we did not want to take one dollar out of our balances to finance Dressel and so the $1.94 million purchase price is through lease-purchase bonds …”