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Grand Forks Schools committee wants task force for facilities plan

The Grand Forks School Board committee that oversees the process of forming a long-term facilities plan wants the district to form a task force.

The district's facilities committee forwarded recommendations to form a group that would focus on studying what should be a part of a long-term facilities master plan, including defining a 21st century learning concept. The task force that would include internal and external stakeholders would be broken into three committees: elementary education model, facility options and financial feasibility.

The facilities committee asked that the School Board review its recommendations at the April meeting.

The vote comes after the board reviewed task force suggestions from Superintendent Larry Nybladh, as well as the results of a survey showing participants did not want the district to build new schools or consolidate others. JLG Architects presented several options last month that could fit into the district's facilities plan, including scenarios in which the district would build a new school while consolidating Lewis and Clark, Winship, West and Wilder elementary schools.

Not everyone wanted to form the task force just yet. Committee member Cynthia Shabb, the lone dissenter, said the committee needed more information on defining the 21st century concept and how to set task force committees.

"Twenty-first century learning is very different," she said. "I don't like the idea of outlining these committees."

Other facilities committee members said it was important to move toward forming the task force and signal to the community it is moving forward.

"It's a guide, but nobody is stuck to it," committee member Meggen Sande said of the task force, adding the groups could be changed.

The goal is to include experts on 21st century learning on the committees, Nybladh said.

"Don't just think about it as this is just for citizens," he said of the task force.

What's next?

The JLG scenarios were meant to show the most fiscally responsible way to get to a 21st century school system, but it's up to the district on how to proceed, architect Dan Miller said during the meeting.

Justin and Whitney Berry, who live in the Riverside neighborhood near Wilder and are part of the Grand Forks Neighborhood Schools Alliance, told the Herald Tuesday the scenarios don't take into account the human element. Some who took the survey questioned whether closing schools was in the best interest of children, according to a list of comments from the survey.

The options of consolidating Lewis and Clark, Winship, West and Wilder are not the final plans but rather what-if scenarios, Nybladh told the Herald before the meeting. He said he feels the mention of the consolidations was misinterpreted as a move to close schools.

"Not that they may not be in the future," Nybladh said of potential closings, but other options could arise as discussions advance and the district won't be ready to make a decision for some time. "That was not where things were at in this discussion with the architects."

The results may be useful and insightful, but the survey isn't scientific, he said.

"It's an opinion and perception survey based upon one point and time with self-selected respondents," he said. "I want to make sure people don't misunderstand what the survey is or isn't, that it's not a comprehensive survey of our entire school district and community."

A more scientific survey is possible, he said. JLG incorporated the survey results and comments into an updated master plan draft that was revealed at Wednesday's meeting.

Forming a task force with internal and external stakeholders was part of Nybladh's vision in forming a long-term facilities plan, he said, but the survey results informed his recommendation to break the group down into subcommittees, he said. He pointed to comments that emphasized defining a 21st century learning model and more opportunities for public input.

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.

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