CCX News Special Report: How Wayzata Area Schools Handle Plymouth’s Population Growth
Hundreds of new homes are going up in northwest Plymouth, an area that has seen explosive growth the last several years. The Wayzata School District continually monitors that growth. The district is now conducting a facilities study to manage class sizes and determine building needs.
The Hollydale Effect on Wayzata School Growth
Across the road from the Hollydale Golf Course in Plymouth are the sights and sounds of progress. Construction crews are hard at work on a project known as “The Villas at Timbers Edge,” a collection of luxury homes priced from $500,000 to $700,000. Plymouth resident Shellie Bechtold has a front row seat for the action.
“It’s constant construction,” Bechtold said back in October. “They start their trucks at 6:30, 6:45 in the morning, and they go until sunset or after, Monday through Saturday.”
Bechtold lives right next to the development site; and while the construction is a constant pain, she’s even less excited about the aftermath.
“More homes, more people, more cars going up and down Holly Street,” Bechtold said.
To make matters even more frustrating, there’s talk of the shuttered Hollydale Golf Course being converted to hundreds of new, single family homes. Bechtold ‘s friend, Melanie Huhta, lives right along Hollydale.
“We have a lot of concerns about walkability, bikeability, and then the crowding and the population growth at the schools,” Huhta said. Specifically, she’s referring to the schools in the Wayzata School District.
“One of my kids is a middle-schooler,” Huhta said. “Just started middle school.”
More homes leads to enrollment growth and, as Huhta found out, district boundary changes. The most recent realignment forced her daughter to be moved from Plymouth Creek Elementary to a different school.
“I think the school did a very good job of trying to bring those kids in and making them feel welcome, but it’s still very disruptive to the kids,” Huhta said. “There’s anxiety about losing friends that they’ve already developed.”
It’s one of the many reasons why Huhta and Bechtold are trying to take a stand and prevent Hollydale from becoming Plymouth’s next epicenter of single-family home construction.
“There’s growth, and then there’s growth that’s just unreasonable,” Huhta said. “And I think we’re getting to be at that tipping point.”
Wayzata School District Prepares for Enrollment Growth
Passing time at Wayzata High School is hectic, with more than 3,600 teenagers frantically trying to get from point A to point B.
But such is life at Minnesota’s largest high school, and district officials only expect the enrollment to grow.
“The last five years, we’ve seen about 1,800 new students,” said Kristin Tollison, Wayzata’s director of administrative services. “And we’re expecting about that pace or slightly more for the next five years.”
It’s Tollison’s job to meet with all of the city leaders and developers in the area to ensure that the district is ahead of the game.
“We work really hard with them to partner, so that when those houses are developed, we’re ready to respond and educate the children,” she said.
In some cases, that response involves going to taxpayers for a referendum. If the voters approve the referendum, the district gets the green light to build new schools that accommodate the influx of students.
Population Growth leads to Two New Elementary Schools
Much of the district’s growth is happening in northwest Plymouth. In 2016, Wayzata built Meadow Ridge Elementary and added onto it about a year and a half later. In 2019, the district built North Woods Elementary.
“It’s very exciting; and we regularly say it’s a good problem to have,” Tollison said. “It’s much more fun to be part of a dynamic growth. Although we’ve been doing it for quite a while, and that certainly comes with its stressors.”
Next Crunch at the Middle School Level
Case in point, once the students at Meadow Ridge and North Woods finish fifth grade, they would flow to Central Middle School. The district is now conducting a facilities study to determine whether the building can handle all of those students.
“We’ll look at the projections, and then we will probably go through a process with our community that talks about, do we add on? If so, where do we add on?” Tollison said. “If that doesn’t feel right, do we build, and if so, what would be our timeline?”
Tollison says it’s too early to know whether the district would need to build another middle school. Such a decision could be a four-year process that requires approval from the MN Department of Education and district voters.
Yet regardless of what happens, Tollison stresses that the growth won’t have a huge impact on class sizes.
“We do have target ranges, and whenever we start to exceed those, we add staffing.”
North Woods Elementary Reaches Capacity In Coming Years
The kindergarten students at North Woods Elementary have years to go before they move on to college. But by the time they graduate from high school in 2032, North Woods – and the surrounding community -s could look significantly different.
“The school needed to be built because the current elementary school populations in this area of the city were really ballooning up,” said Jenny Berg, the principal of North Woods.
Berg says enrollment during this inaugural school year currently sits at 570 students. But with all the new home construction in the area, and possibly more on the way, she expects enrollment to reach 850 students in the coming years.
“I don’t know what the predictions are yet for next year, but we are built with the intent to grow,” Berg said. “So we have extra classrooms at every grade level right now anticipating that would happen.”
For now, the focus is on building a culture where the students enjoy learning and feel like they belong.
“Our school supports each other, we support our students, we support our teachers,” said Jenna Quick, a kindergarten teacher at North Woods. “We support everybody in a way that makes us feel much smaller than a big district you’d think would have.”
The Metropolitan Council projects the City of Plymouth to grow by more than 7,000 people by the year 2040.