With approval from the Grand Forks School Board, a consultant will move forward in gathering information on six schools that the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission would like to nominate for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The action came after board members rejected their administrators' request to halt the nomination process on a vote of 5-3 at its most recent meeting.
Superintendent Terry Brenner told the board Monday that, while the work of the commission “is worthy and would be acceptable, our concern is where it might lead us.”
Brenner recommended that the board not permit the commission’s proposed scope of work to move forward in order to protect the school district.
School district administrators and several board members are concerned that placement on the National Register may increase project costs and affect future decision-making regarding demolition, remodeling or re-purposing of older buildings.
The schools, which reflect the mid-century modern style of architecture, are Ben Franklin, Lewis and Clark, Viking, West and Wilder elementary schools and Valley Middle School.
Chuck Flemmer, chairman of the commission, said the goal is to document and keep a record of the historical aspects of the structures. His group has hired Susan Caraher, of Grand Forks, to prepare materials for the nomination.
Board member Chris Douthit recommended “putting the brakes on” the nomination process and allowing students to conduct the research on the physical features that distinguish the schools as examples of mid-century architecture.
“This is conflicting for me. I love history. I love advancing kids," said Eric Lunn, a board member who suggested a compromise.
"Why not submit just one as an example?” asked Lunn, adding that the board needs to hear more from the public.
In recent years, the board has considered closing some small, older elementary schools and consolidating them into a single, large facility.
“I do think it’s important that (the schools) be documented," said Cythia Shabb, a board member.
She said she consulted Sandy Slater, former head of UND Special Collections at the Chester Fritz Library, and Gordon Iseminger, a long-time UND history professor, who indicated that “they wanted to do this scope of work three years ago.”
Some people think that, if the schools are listed on the National Register, they will be saved, Shabb said.
“But that’s not the trigger for the Section 106 review. That happens when you have federal funds," she said.
Section 106 is a portion of the National Historic Preservation Act concerned with changes to historic properties.
“I don’t see a problem with having someone do the scope of work on (the nomination),” said Shabb, adding that the effort “has gotten to be very political."
However, Shabb said she believed the timing of the request to nominate the schools in the wake of discussions about possible school closures is coincidental.
School Board President Bill Palmiscno, along with Douthit and Matt Spivey, supported the school district administration’s request to deny the commission’s request.
Palmiscno’s stance is based on his concern about how being listed on the National Register could affect future school construction or remodeling projects.
“I don’t want to take that risk,” Palmiscno said.
His concern is that placement of schools on the National Register “slows down construction,” he said.
“We only have a 12-week window to get work done in the summer,” he said. “If, say, we need to do work at Ben Franklin (school), we don’t want to wait while someone in Bismarck or elsewhere visits about it.”
Flemmer said he hoped the final report regarding the nomination would be written by the end of this month for the school board to review before its next meeting on July 15.
If approved by the board, a meeting to gather public input would be held then the nomination would be submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office for review there, Flemmer said.
“Until the SHPO sends the nomination to the Department of the Interior, you have that time when you can say, ‘We don’t want it,’ ” he said.