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Grand Forks Public Schools to spend last fall’s levy money on bonds, new roofs, and more

A pair of school board votes set aside $1.5 million this year and next on assorted maintenance projects, plus a further $1 million each year to repay an estimated $15-16 million worth of bonds that will in turn pay for work on fire alarms and other safety-minded equipment at the district's elementary schools and Central High School

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 — About six months after voters gave the go-ahead for a new tax levy, Grand Forks Public Schools leaders agreed to a two-year spending plan for that money.

The district is set to receive an estimated $2.5 million each year from a 10-mil property tax levy Grand Forks-area residents approved in September to fix up its aging buildings and chip away at a staggering list of hoped-for maintenance projects . A pair of unanimous School Board votes on Monday earmarked $1 million of that for bond repayments over the next 20 years and the remaining $1.5 million for renovations this school year and the next.

The $1 million is set to repay between $15 million and $16 million worth of bonds district leaders plan to sell to upgrade the heating and cooling systems at Kelly, Lewis and Clark, and Wilder elementary schools and to upgrade the public address systems, fire alarms and other safety systems at each of elementary schools and the district’s headquarters on 47th Avenue.

The move leaves $1.5 million each year for the district to spend on renovations in the current fiscal year and the next, including replacing the roof at Kelly and Viking elementaries, repairing the floors at Ben Franklin elementary, and repairing a set of steps at Central High School.

Neither vote apportioned levy money to work at Valley, South or Schroeder middle schools. District staff are weighing yet another referendum – or possibly a series of referenda spread across several years – that would pay for large-scale work at South and Schroeder and, perhaps, replacing Valley outright. A public forum scheduled for Monday, March 28, will focus on the district’s facilities plans and gauging attendees' willingness to support one or more of those projects.

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And neither vote on Monday addresses the swimming pools at Central or Red River High School.

Prompted by a question from board member Cynthia Shabb, Buildings and Grounds Director Chris Arnold said on Monday that his department could put together a rework plan once staff there know which spaces at Red River might be up for grabs after the district’s career and technical education center opens. The center, called the “Career Impact Academy,” officially won on Monday the $10 million state grant upon which the project has been banking . Business and industry leaders have collectively pledged a further $11 million toward the center’s construction.

The fate of Central’s pool, Arnold told Shabb and other board members, will depend on what the city, park district, and other nearby governments do with their pools .

“It is sitting in the background as a potential project that we may need to address sooner than later,” Arnold said.

Career academy, performance review, quick pace

In related news, board members:

  • Briefly celebrated the grant the district received for its planned career academy. Arnold is set to meet with city staff to sort out the particulars of demolishing the closed hotel at the intersection of Gateway Drive and North 42nd Street, which is where the academy is slated to be built. “It’s a big day for Grand Forks,” Superintendent Terry Brenner said.
  • Approved Brenner’s semi-annual performance evaluation, which, ultimately, found him to not be unsatisfactory in any area considered by board members . Surveys board members took earlier this year had a more nuanced approach that broadly approved of Brenner’s work in several key areas, including community relations and resource management.
  • Approved a raise and contract extension for Brenner, who’s now set to head the district for the next three years and receive bumps to his $195,000 annual salary this year and next that mirror those received by Grand Forks Public Schools teachers last year and this year.
  • Noted the particularly quick meeting, especially by their standards: 54 minutes, approximately, a mark that a few district officials jokingly guessed might be a record.
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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