Grand Forks School Board votes to delay Valley Middle School referendum

Board determines that the $55 million referendum election should be postponed from September to spring 2023.

Mark Sanford Center Grand Forks schools logo sign tower.jpg
The Mark Sanford Education Center, headquarters of Grand Forks Public Schools. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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GRAND FORKS – After much discussion, following a presentation by ICON Architects employees on a proposed new Valley Middle School, the Grand Forks School Board on Monday voted unanimously to delay a planned referendum to spring 2023.

The $55 million bond referendum to build a new Valley school, on property where it stands now, and a new Child Nutrition Center at the Mark Sanford Education Center, had been set for Sept. 27.

But ICON representatives urged board members to postpone the referendum to allow a more thorough review of not only the needs of Valley Middle School, but also the school district’s overall facility needs. This district-wide assessment is being donated to the community at no extra charge, said Kyle Kvamme of ICON Architects.

Kvamme stressed the need to replace Valley, but that ICON and district administrators “didn’t have all the pieces in place” to present a sufficiently solid plan to the public regarding the Valley Middle School project – and that more time is needed to develop it.

Factors such as the fluctuating costs of construction materials and labor, as well as availability of laborers, will affect the plan.


“The level of inflation is unprecedented,” Kvamme said. “We need to reprioritize based on market conditions.”

Todd Mitzel, also from the firm, told board members it “was kind of a hard discussion” to propose to district administrators that the referendum be delayed, but a spring ‘23 vote would allow for six to nine months for the bidding process, with a construction start date as early as possible in spring 2024.

In that time frame, some costs are expected to decrease, which would impact the cost of a new school, Kvamme said, noting that the firm would enlist other business partners in cost consulting.

“We really believe that Valley needs to be replaced,” Kvamme said, emphasizing that the board needs to “get the facts and lay them out there” for public scrutiny.

He said ICON’s “community-led process” would educate voters and improve chances for a positive referendum outcome “if we engage folks and get it out to the public – not what we want, but what we need and here’s why.”

The vote would not be an “emotional decision” but would be “justified by data,” Kvamme said.

Mitzel urged the board to consider “what are your priorities, what is your gameplan,” not just for Valley but for the district – and that such a plan should reflect potential changes and expansions in the future.

“HVAC and safety and security are the top two priorities (for the district) and that won’t change,” Superintendent Terry Brenner said.


Board member Cynthia Shabb questioned what would happen if Valley’s HVAC system failed and the school could not operate. Brenner said a plan is in place to “re-campus” students and staff, in a manner similar to that which took place after the Flood of ‘97.

Board President Eric Lunn said it is “critical to educate the public and new school board members” and doubted that could be accomplished by Sept. 27.

Newly elected board member Monte Gaukler, a former Valley teacher, said she remembers “how hot it was in the classroom, how hard it was to teach there,” but praised the staff, students and especially the janitorial staff for their efforts to optimize conditions. “They do a tremendous job,” she said.

“It’s hard to say 'let’s postpone,' ” Gaukler said, but it’s necessary to ensure that voters are fully informed about “what they’re purchasing, so to speak.”

Another new member, Joel Larson, said, “A delay feels on one hand irresponsible because of the needs there. …. Even though I don’t want to delay it, I think it’s a smart delay.”

Bill Palmiscno, longtime board member, said, “I don’t think we’re going to lose a school year (by delaying the referendum). I don’t think a delay is going to be as bad as we think it’s going to be.”

No specific date for the referendum was set by the board; a time frame ranging from February to May was mentioned. District administrators will present that date for the board’s consideration at a later board meeting.

In other action, the board:


  • Approved the hiring of Cassaundra Riewer as associate principal of Lake Agassiz Elementary School, effective July 1, 2022, at a salary of $84,336. Riewer, who was among three internal and three external candidates interviewed for the position, has been serving as instructional design coach at Wilder Elementary School.  
  • Voted to allow Philip Ruse to bring 15 years of pre-K-16 teaching experience into the district in his new role as a teacher with the SAIL, or Social and Academic Intervention  Learning Center – formerly the STEP program. That unusual number of years was allowed because the position is considered difficult to fill. Ruse’s salary will be $64,808. 
  • President Lunn thanked Jaqueline Hassett for her four years of service on the School Board, saying that she was “the heart of our board” and brought a sense of empathy to her work “with diversity, equity and inclusivity” at the board and committee levels. Lunn presented her with a Certificate of Merit, signed by State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and Grand Forks Superintendent Brenner. Hassett said she has joked “that I picked the best four years to run for School Board” and noted that she is “passionate about creating diversity of thought” and somewhat disappointed that there are not more women and people of color on the board. Hassett ran for reelection but lost in last month’s School Board election.     
  • Welcomed Maggie Barker, Red River High School, and Ryaan Alshami, Grand Forks Central High School, as student members of the board. Both will be juniors this fall.    
Making his first address to a joint session of Congress since Republicans took control of the House, Biden urged bitterly divided lawmakers to overcome their differences.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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