A subcommittee of the Career and Technical Education Workforce Center steering committee has preliminarily ranked the former Holiday Inn -- more recently known as Grand Forks Inn and Suites -- on Gateway Drive near Interstate 29 at the top of a list of potential locations for a new career and technical education center.

Other options, ranked second and third, are a City Business Park site and an addition to Red River High School. The facilities subcommittee has eliminated a fourth option, the former Sears building at the Columbia Mall, said Shari Elgin, chairperson of the 11-member subcommittee.

The site for the career and technical education center is part of the $10 million application the Grand Forks school district plans to submit to the state this fall. The 2021 North Dakota Legislature has dedicated $70 million in federal funding for start-up or expansion of CTE centers. The $10 million Grand Forks is seeking must be matched by financial or in-kind local public and private contributions.

Grant funding for these centers will be awarded by the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education in two rounds, with application deadlines set for Oct. 1 and Dec. 1.

The three options for the CTE center here are all considered viable at this point, said Eric Ripley, director of CTE and technology for Grand Forks Public Schools. He downplayed the notion of rankings a bit, since a crucial component, the cost associated with each site, is not yet known, and therefore the rankings could change.

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The architectural firm that is chosen for the project will “tell us the pros and cons” of the various sites, said Ripley, a subcommittee member. “And, to me, they have that expertise that we feel like we’re missing to be able to further narrow that list down.

“We really feel one of the most important things, in the near future, that our architectural firm will do is help us get down to the preferred site.”

The firm, which has yet to be approved by the Grand Forks School Board, will provide much of the cost information the subcommittee needs to select the best site, Ripley said.

This week, another committee reviewed and evaluated responses to its request for proposals from three local architectural engineering firms, and will bring its recommendation -- JLG Architects -- to the School Board for approval at its next regular meeting, Monday, Aug. 23.

The other firms that submitted RFPs were EAPC and ICON.

The committee members are Ripley; Chris Arnold, GFPS director of buildings and grounds; John Oncken, owner of True North Equipment; Amber Flynn, School Board vice president; and Mayor Brandon Bochenski.

“We were not only excited about that interest, but also confident in any of those three firms to be able to deliver exactly what type of services we were looking for,” Ripley said. “So we felt we had a strong group to pick from and it was not necessarily an easy choice.”

Ripley and other subcommittee members will be looking to the selected firm “to help us with finalizing that site selection and, obviously, future design elements and blueprints and things of that nature,” he said. “We think their expertise is going to be pretty valuable as we narrow that list down to a preferred choice.”

In ranking the final three CTE center site options, the subcommittee took into account factors -- which were approved by the steering committee -- such as ease of access for Grand Forks and rural students, proximity to industry, ability to expand, flexibility of the space, cost factors, site amenities and security, Elgin said.

She emphasized that data on the costs to develop each site are “not clear” or not available yet, noting that input from the selected architectural engineering firm “will make a difference.”

The former Holiday Inn site poses advantages in terms of ease of access for students -- it’s on a bus route; proximity to industry; space for expansion; flexibility of space; and parking, Elgin said. It could mean razing the structure and building a new facility, she said.

The City Business Park site, which would mean a new build, also offers space for expansion, flexibility of space and proximity to industry, but is not yet on a bus route, she said. Being on a bus route would be important, especially to accommodate adult learners and evening schedules, she said.

“We’re still kind of early and that’s why there’s the different rankings; we’re not positive yet. And so something might come into play that we don’t know,” Elgin said. “It really hinges on now, once the (architecture) firm is picked, we can get some better direction and some cost ideas, too, because that’s going to be a major factor also.”

The location in the City Business Park would be near the FedEx Ground site, said Todd Feland, city administrator, but the concern about that location is that it would be “using up a business park site for a CTE center.”

The Red River High School site presents limitations in terms of available space for expansion, flexibility and amenities, Feland said.

The high school also is not as close to industry and insufficient parking would be a drawback, Elgin said.

“We’re trying to move forward,” she said. “The idea of the CTE center has been in the community for a while, but now, with this grant opportunity, it’s really put some urgency in it, because there’s the possibility of some grant funds which have never been available before. If we can work into that and get some of those monies that would be wonderful.”

The facilities subcommittee will bring its final site recommendation to the steering committee for approval. The steering committee will make its recommendation to the School Board which will make the final decision.