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Survey: Grand Forks residents don't support building schools, consolidating buildings

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Grand Forks residents don’t support preliminary proposals to consolidate school district facilities or construct new buildings, according to a recent survey.

A facilities committee for Grand Forks Public Schools will review the survey results Wednesday, along with a proposal by Superintendent Larry Nybladh to consider creating a task force to study issues related to the school’s master facility plan, according to a district memorandum.  

Of the 535 respondents who took the survey in late January, about 63 percent said it was not important to build a 750-student north-end elementary school, and 52 percent didn’t support adding to existing buildings and consolidating others.

“Survey respondents do not appear to support actions that would alter the overall footprint of the school district,” according to a summary of the survey results obtained by the Herald.

The online survey was meant to gauge public opinion on proposed options for the school’s long-term facilities plan. JLG Architects previously gave the district several scenarios on how it could proceed to improve its facilities.

The options include doing nothing, investing in existing facilities, building a new middle school, constructing a new elementary school or expanding Ben Franklin and Viking Elementary schools.

The last three options all suggest consolidating Lewis and Clark, Winship, Wilder and West elementary schools, with JLG estimating doing so would save the district $20 million to $25 million over a 20-year period. Those improvements and investments could cost between $53.9 million and $83.7 million, according to JLG.

The second option would bring schools up to code and standards, but it would improve operational efficiency or “advance spaces toward a 21st century” model, according to JLG’s analysis presented last month.

The do-nothing option would be the most expensive, according to JLG, but the architecture company did not give a specific price tag.

“$1 of investment deferred today may mean $4 of investment in the future,” the firm said in its presentation.

Aside from the do-nothing option, all scenarios would require public input and ultimately a public vote to authorize funding. It also could take two to four years to implement, JLG said.

Respondents did support meeting building codes and standards, performing maintenance, providing similar or equal 21st century learning environments and providing parking and drop-off amenities, among other things.

Respondents ranked the following as somewhat important: long-term savings being a part of financing improvements, cost-effectiveness for operations, doing nothing and saving money for emergency projects only.

Some respondents suggested the district should provide more opportunities for public input by hosting smaller forums at each school, consider adding the option of consolidating West and Winship and discuss supporting small neighborhood schools. Others wanted further explanation on the concept of a 21st century school.

There were concerns of affordability to families who would need to pay to bus children to other schools and a fear residents would move out of the north-end neighborhoods, where Winship, Wilder and West are located. Comments from respondents suggested the board “does not seem interested in what’s best for children” and the north side is getting “the short end of the stick.”

The task force, if approved, would include the district’s “internal and external stakeholders,” according to Nybladh’s memo. It suggests breaking it into three committees: elementary education model, facility options and financial feasibility.

Nybladh also suggested beginning the process to establish the committees and task force in the fall, according to the memo.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248