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Grand Forks schools options: Build a new middle school; demolish West, Wilder and Winship

Members of the Grand Forks School Board's Facilities Committee discussed in more detail the district's master plan Tuesday, along with a new option that calls for expanding Viking and Ben Franklin elementary schools.

They also discussed a possible referendum that may be needed to carry out the plan for building or upgrading schools in the future.

Much of the discussion centered on information that will be presented at the Jan. 22 community forum that will focus on the master facilities plan.

The School Board has hired JLG Architects to help chart a course for the possible renovation, expansion, razing or repurposing of current structures or building one or more new schools over the next five to 15 years.

School district and JLG employees have evaluated the condition of the district's 18 buildings and calculated the costs to maintain or upgrade them.

Some of the buildings are not good candidates for remodeling or expansion, project leaders have said.

They have outlined several scenarios for the board to consider, especially in terms of economic and educational efficiencies and operational adequacy.

Maintaining all of its facilities, which would cost the district $33.4 million over five years, is not popular with committee members.

Among the other options is a plan to build a new middle school, convert Valley Middle School to an elementary school, move the Child Nutrition Program from Valley to the Mark Sanford Education Center, and demolish West, Wilder and Winship elementary schools.

Another option is to raze Ben Franklin Elementary School and use that lot for an athletic field for high school students or for a new elementary school to educate students of West, Wilder and Winship if those schools were to close.

The newest option, to expand Viking and Ben Franklin elementary schools, would cost $35 million, said Mike McLean, JLG architect and project leader.

This option is "less expensive than new buildings," said Ted Rozeboom, educational planning and programming specialist for JLG.

At the Jan. 22 community forum, long-time School Board member Dr. Eric Lunn said it will be important to inform residents that major repairs—such as the $600,000 boiler replacement system at Winship Elementary School this past spring—will continue to plague the older schools.

"We're going to have boiler issues in some of these schools," he said. "Some of these buildings are 40, 50, 60 years old. People need to know this, otherwise, why would you go to these options?"

School Board President Doug Carpenter said public input is needed to gauge interest in the different scenarios spelled out in the plan.

"Do you want a new middle school? Do you want a new elementary school?" Carpenter said. "If not, should we expand certain schools?"

"We should have discussion of the pros and cons of large schools and small schools," he said. "Is it important to be cost effective?"

Many committee members favored treating the Jan. 22 forum as the first in a series of public meetings to gather public opinion.

"If we end up with a referendum, the more forums we have, the more we set ourselves up for success," Lunn said.