SMEC expansion to meet future student needs

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Addition to the school will add three new learning spaces


In 2019, the Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC) broke ground on its facility located alongside Highway 56.

Just four years later, the facility is already in the process of adding on to the complex in order to meet the growing number of kids at the school.

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“I would say pretty much from the get-go, shortly after this building was built, there was a need. That there were more kids that need to be served,” said Deana Dontje, who is in her first year as principal of the ALC side of SMEC after serving as a principal at Kingsland. “It’s a good problem to have, but I think it’s been on the radar for quite a while that we need more space.”

The consortium, which is made up of seven southeast Minnesota schools, is serving 80 students on its ALC side with more on a waiting list, making the need for space even more pressing.

“I think you’re seeing more and more kids that have what you wouldn’t consider traditional needs,” Dontje said, adding that students come to the ALC for a variety of reasons. “Some of our students have just gotten behind on credits for various reasons so they can come here and learn in a style that fits them and they can get caught up so they can graduate.”

The walls are up on the SMEC’s new addition. Work will be completed next year with the facilities ready for use by next school year. Eric Johnson/

“There is definitely a growing need for that style of education,” she added.

When the addition is completed, SMEC will have added three additional learning spaces. Two of those have been earmarked for a food science lab while the other will be used for carpentry classes, that will have a garage allowing for students to work on small-engine repair as well.

It hasn’t been decided yet what the third room will be used for.

Walls and underground infrastructure have been built, however, construction has halted for the winter, with work expected to start again this spring. The entire project is expected to be completed by the start of next school year.

However, what the expansion reinforces for Dontje and those who work in ALC programming is that these types of educational experiences are gaining popularity.

“It shows that there is a need for it and it shows we can reach kids that maybe wouldn’t otherwise be successful,” Dontje said. “I think it’s really amazing when you see a kid that hasn’t ever had success, show themselves they can be successful.”

The other thing the expansion will allow for is SMEC keeping up with opportunities for its students. Some who utilize SMEC will go to college, but many will transfer directly into the trades.

Having these opportunities at SMEC as well as partnerships with places like Riverland Community College will further allow SMEC to meet those needs.

“We want to make sure our program is all encompassing so no matter which of those things they’ve chosen, we’ve supplied them with the skill set they need to be successful in all those areas,” Dontje said.