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OUR OPINION: Stage set for a successful expansion

The Grand Forks School District is making steady progress toward an ambitious goal of improving its high school music and theater facilities. Good. The new facilities would serve the district for many years to come. As important, the projects wou...

The Grand Forks School District is making steady progress toward an ambitious goal of improving its high school music and theater facilities.

Good. The new facilities would serve the district for many years to come. As important, the projects would reaffirm the district's commitment to these vital programs, in both of which Grand Forks already excels.

When Ralph Engelstad gave UND the money to build the new Engelstad Arena, he said UND needed a top-flight home for hockey if the university hoped to stay competitive in Division I. Today, The Ralph does that and more, helping UND draw top players and cementing the hockey program's place in any listing of America's best.

Improved facilities at Red River and Central high schools would help do the same in music and theater arts. And at a time when so many districts are cutting back on extracurriculars, the fact that Grand Forks is poised to expand them speaks volumes. The action says Grand Forks is a progressive and well-managed district that can afford the "extras," the after-school activities that mean so much to so many students.

That's a big selling point for the district in the all-important business of attracting families. Or it could be: the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. should take note and highlight the local schools' powerful commitment to the performing arts.

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The above is made all the more impressive by the news that the district likely could pay for the expansions without raising taxes. That's a huge tribute to the administration's smart and fiscally conservative management over the years.

As the School Board approaches its "go/no go" decision in 2010, here are a few more things board members should keep in mind:

n The district should consider asking private donors for money to help pay for the project.

Maybe it's unrealistic to expect, say, Red River and Central alumni to contribute more than a small amount to the project. But maybe not. Start with the fact that Grand Forks' music and theater arts programs have been very strong for a good number of years. Add the fact that huge numbers of adults who acted, worked backstage or played an instrument in high school look back on their experiences as some of the greatest and most formative of their lives.

Consider as well that large numbers of these graduates parlayed their confidence and team spirit into successful careers.

You'd find a network of loyal alumni who's give generously to help the expansion proceed.

n It's smart for the district to delay a final decision until it completes a districtwide facility assessment in April.

That assessment will be vital, since it probably will determine the district's building plans. The public should be given lots of opportunities to weigh in, and the views of principals and teachers should be welcomed, too.

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The assessment may reveal some unexpected things. For example, it may confirm some Central insiders' claim that the school needs expanded gymnasium facilities more than it does an improved theater.

Or the study may find that claim to be unfounded; we'll see. The point is that School Board members should listen to what local stakeholders really want rather than what consultants say they should want.

Overall, the district has moved carefully so far. That means officials likely (and rightly) will take the pulse of the community before making pronouncements and prescribing a cure.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Related Topics: THEATER
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