MONTEVIDEO - A public partnership between the city of Montevideo and the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative is making possible a new school to serve area students with special needs.

Construction on the Northstar Educational Learning Center is underway, with expectations that the 22,500-square-foot facility on the east edge of Montevideo will be ready for its first students at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

"This couldn't have been done without the collaboration,'' said Cliff Carmody, executive director of the service cooperative. Carmody spoke Wednesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility.

The Montevideo Economic Development Agency is the project owner. It is taking on approximately $5.2 million in debt to construct the facility, which it will then lease to the service cooperative with a buyout option, according to Steve Jones, Montevideo city manager.

For the city, the project represents an economic development initiative. The school will create 30 to possibly 40 new jobs in the community when fully staffed with paraprofessionals and licensed instructors.

Jim Curtiss, mayor-elect of Montevideo, called the facility a great addition for the community. "We're on the right road,'' said Curtiss while pointing out that the city will also be seeing construction of a veterans nursing home.

For the service cooperative, the new school represents the first of its learning centers that is specifically designed and built for students with special needs. The cooperative operates learning centers in Cosmos, Willmar, Belview, Windom and Pipestone. The sixth site in Montevideo will also help it achieve a goal of offering services within 30 miles of all students in the area served by the cooperative.

Carmody said the school is expected to initially serve 25 to 30 students in grades K-12. It will be the first of its centers to also include a preschool component, he added.

The site offers space for expansion if student enrollment grows, which is very possible, according to Carmody. Special needs programs fill very quickly at all of the centers. "Somewhere there is a ceiling, but we haven't found it yet," he said.

The learning centers serve students with behavioral, mental health and other learning disabilities. The students will come from area school districts. Smaller districts may have only one or two students in need of the special services provided at the learning centers. It is difficult for a smaller school to provide the programming and fund the staffing needed to meet these needs on their own, Carmody said.

The new school will feature smaller classrooms, as well as sensory rooms for students to take time when struggling during the school day. Otherwise, it will look very much like a traditional school, he said.

The goal is to help students deal with their disabilities in a way that helps them be successful. The school also attempts to help students transition back to their home district schools when possible, Carmody said.

Nor-Son Construction, with offices in Baxter and Wayzata in Minnesota and in Fargo, North Dakota, is project contractor, and Hay Dobbs of Minneapolis is the project architect. The contractor is hoping to pour footings for the facility in the coming week and have it enclosed to allow interior work during the winter. It is on a tight time schedule, speakers said at the groundbreaking.