Minnesota Mega-Mall To Include Education Facility

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Five Minnesota school districts hope to finish plans this month for an unusual public-education program that would be included in a mammoth shopping mall under construction near the Twin Cities.

The Mall of America is a 4.2 million-square-foot shopping center being built on the former site of a professional baseball and football stadium in Bloomington, a suburb about 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

If some local educators have their way, the mall will also include a facility that next fall could begin providing educational services from preschool to adult education.

A few public-school districts have placed schools in office buildings or other workplaces. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1987.) But, if it becomes a reality, the Minnesota facility may be the first public-school program ever placed in a shopping mall.

Educators in the Twin Cities area were intrigued by the fact that the Mall of America plans to employ more than 10,000 workers. They approached developers with ideas about including some form of educational facility within the mail.

After lengthy discussions, five districts are now finishing a governance plan for a joint education program. The districts participating in the plan include the state's two largest, Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as three in the suburbs--Bloomington, Richfield, and St. Louis Park.

"All of us are in space crunches to some degree," said Maureen Flanagan, a magnet and specialty school planner for the St. Paul public schools. "This is an opportunity to develop a unique program in cooperation with four other districts."

Planners of the mall's education facility say the blueprint calls for five separate elements: a preschool with afterschool child care; an early-grade elementary school, also with child care; a learning center for high-school students that could be linked to parttime jobs in the mall; an adult-learning program ranging from vocational training to college courses; and an "exploratorium" component that could provide short-term learning opportunities for visiting students.

For example, an educational visit could be tailored around the mall's aquarium, said Susan Hankner, the project coordinator working with the school districts.

The high-school component could include mentorship programs that would provide students with credit for working in mall shops, officials said.

"We are not calling it a school, because it is not school in the traditional terminology," said Ms. Hankner, a former teacher. "Students will not come in and sit down in 30 chairs in a classroom."

A pupil might accompany her mother to the mall, attending "classes" while her mother works, she said. Parents who work in the mall would then find it easier to check on their children's educational progress.

"Students would not necessarily arrive or leave all at the same time," Ms. Hankner added. "Hopefully, they would arrive and leave with their parents."

Open Enrollment

Many governance, enrollment, and finance issues have yet to be worked out. But the basic principle of open enrollment in Minnesota would be involved. State funding would probably follow the pupil from one of the five districts to the mall education program, officials said. Corporate and other private support will be sought for some of the programs.

A task force made up of the superintendents and one school board member from each district has been meeting to decide the governance issues for the facility. The task force is scheduled to present a plan Oct. 10 to a joint meeting of school-beard members from the five districts. Then, each board would have to approve the plan separately. Organizers hope all five boards will give their approval by the end of this month.

The $625-million mall is scheduled to open in August 1992 with four department stores, several hundred specialty shops, 14 movie theaters, nightclubs, and other staples of the modern mega-mall.

In addition, however, the mall will include Knott's Camp Snoopy, a seven-acre indoor amusement park based on Snoopy and other "Peanuts" characters; Underwater World, a walk-through aquarium; a giant high-tech miniature-golf course; and a LEG0 Showplace, featuring countless pieces of the children's toy.

"It is a new generation of shopping and leisure facility," said Maureen Hooley, spokesman for the Mall of America developers. "We are calling it a premiere retail and entertainment destination in the Midwest."

The mall is the brainchild of an Edmonton, Canada, family that owns the West Edmonton Mall, said to be the world's largest shopping center. Mall of America would be this nation's largest, the developers say.

Besides catering to Twin Cities shoppers with such stores as Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, the Mall of America is intended to be a major tourist draw for Midwestern families within a 200-mile radius of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Developers are even targeting Japanese tourists, hoping they will spend time in the mall after flying into the United States on Northwest Airlines' nonstop flight from Tokyo.

Vol. 11, Issue 06, Page 9

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