Members of the school district’s K-8 Campus Pre-design Committee plan to update the Grand Forks School Board on Monday, April 26, on the main features of a K-8 school that's proposed to be built on the site where Valley Middle School now stands.

The school would consolidate Valley and three north-end elementary schools – West, Wilder and Winship – into one structure that would accommodate up to 1,000 students. The $70.5 million project is part of an $86 million bond and mill levy-increase referendum that will be presented to voters in a June 22 special election.

The pre-design committee plans to present a final, more detailed presentation at the School Board’s regular May 10 meeting. The group plans to meet once more, via Zoom, at a date to be determined, before that board meeting.

The committee, consisting of about two dozen teachers, administrators and parents of students, held its third weekly meeting Tuesday, April 20. Led by Sara Guyette, director of development architecture with SitelogIQ, the firm hired by the School Board to conduct pre-referendum planning, the group has been brainstorming general design features that represent how the new building would look and function, inside and out.

The members have been working on “big picture” concepts they feel should be addressed in the design that ultimately will be created by the architectural firm the School Board engages, if the referendum election is successful.

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The new school may accommodate up to 1,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Much attention has been given to placement and adjacency of spaces – such as classrooms, learning labs, gyms, the kitchen, cafeteria and common areas – within the building, as well as drop-off and pick-up points for family vehicles and buses outside the building.

“The city is working on a traffic study for this area, which will help inform where the drop-offs are,” Guyette told the group, as its members studied various overhead Powerpoint depictions of a school between Fourth and Sixth avenues.

Separate entrances

Most of the small groups that worked up designs for the building, using paper circles labeled with space names, determined that at least two entrances would be preferable – one each for elementary students and for middle school students.

“One thing I’ve heard several times is you’ve got to keep them separated, and have as few shared spaces as possible,” said Todd Selk, principal at Valley Middle School, referring to elementary and middle school students as groups.

The wide range of ages in K-8 students, which could be from ages 5 to 14, “would be a big span,” Selk said. The concern is that the “levels of maturity, the levels of behavior would not mix well.”

The three-story model prepared, on paper, by Sonja Brandt and members of her small group featured two main entrances and other entrances for music and gym activities that the public would attend, plus a loading dock near the kitchen. Brandt, with 15 years’ experience in elementary education, is a faculty member in the UND College of Education and Human Development.

Brandt and others are recommending that separate lunchrooms and gyms serve elementary and middle school students, simply because of the timing involved with gym class and lunch demands for up to 1,000 students.

Grand Forks residents are anxious for information on the new school, and want to know “what decisions are being made,” Brandt said, noting that this committee is focused on brainstorming, which is “an ongoing process.”

North-end parents are also concerned about safety, given the busy Washington and Gateway corridors, said Brandt, who has a child at Wilder Elementary School and a preschooler who will attend there next year.

“How are little kids going to get to school safely?” she said.

“We really want parents to know we’ve taken that safety concern into account” and that traffic has been considered, said Shari Bilden, who has served five years as principal of Nathan Twining Elementary and Middle School at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Even though there are plenty of questions on the minds of voters, “it’s a good time in our world to design a school,” Brandt said. “Even with Discovery (Elementary, which was built six years ago) there are changes that we would make.”

In brainstorming the pre-design of the school, committee members came up with “a lot of varied ideas, but common themes,” Selk said. “There’s a lot of commonality” among the models the small groups designed.

At the end of its work, the committee plans to provide the public with key concepts for the school, with multiple options on how various concerns – such as parking, safety and traffic issues – can be met.

“We want the public to know there will be stakeholder input beyond this meeting,” said Diane Krueger, an English teacher who has taught at Valley Middle School for eight years.