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Grand Forks School Board sets date for referendum, declares emergency to address Schroeder damage

A bar joist has failed in Schroeder Middle School's Family and Consumer Sciences lab and classroom spaces; the area has been deemed unsafe and is no longer in use, said Superintendent Terry Brenner.

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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Editor's note: This story was updated on Thursday, May 12. Tracey Johnson's name was misspelled in the article "School Board sets date for vote" in the Wednesday, May 11, 2022 edition. Johnson is director of the Head Start Program in Grand Forks Public Schools.

GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks School Board on Monday voted unanimously to set Sept. 27, 2022, for the referendum election that will decide whether to build a new $55 million Valley Middle School.

Board members also voted to approve a "declaration of emergency," which allows the district to bypass the state's regular requirements and move ahead quickly to find solutions to address roof damage at Schroeder Middle School. A bar joist has failed in the school's Family and Consumer Sciences lab and classroom spaces; the area has been deemed unsafe and is no longer in use, said Superintendent Terry Brenner.

More board news
The new members, whose terms start July 1, come on as the nine-member board arrives at a precipice of important school decisions – controversial ones that could leave a notable footprint in the community.

Chris Arnold, the district's director of buildings and grounds, said the roof is "sub-par" and must be replaced. For the board's consideration, he outlined several options that would move the project forward, including filling in the courtyard area "to make it part of the building structure," he said. He expects to present more detailed information, including cost estimates, at the board's next meeting.

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The roof damage is in the original Schroeder Middle School structure, built in 1960, and is attributed to the way the joists were spaced, six feet apart, and to cuts that were made in the bridging between the joists, Arnold said. "The nearest I could figure is they were cut so they could fit lights in there."

"Structural engineering codes were significantly different in1960 than in 2022," he said.

Arnold is exploring the possibility that an insurance claim may be warranted. He is recommending that a forensic team be hired to examine the entire building "to make sure we don't have other similar issues elsewhere in the school."

Depending on the option the board eventually approves, the renovation project could cost about $2.8 million.

Referendum

Regarding the school referendum, Superintendent Brenner said there are several advantages to holding a special referendum election on Sept. 27, including the fact that school will be in session and the date is not close to any school holidays. The last special election, held in September 2021, asked voters to approve a 10-mill increase in the school mill levy for the district's building fund. There was a good turnout in that election and voters approved the increase.

Board member Doug Carpenter agreed with the recommended timing of the election, noting that in September, the question of whether to build a new grades 6-8 middle school on the Valley Middle School site will be the only question on the ballot. If the board was to delay the school referendum until the general election in November, the proposal would get lost amid other items and races that voters will be asked to decide, he said.

The special election is estimated to cost the district about $9,000, Brenner said.

In other business:

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  • The board heard, via Zoom, a student demographic report from the district's demographer, Rob Schwarz of RSP and Associates, based in Kansas City, Mo., which forecast that overall enrollment will increase by 70 students in the next five years, to about 7,500 students. Most growth in student enrollment is occurring in the south and northwest areas of town, with the majority of new housing development emerging in the southwest. The board may need to consider relocating special programs and capping individual school enrollments to prevent overcrowding in some schools, Schwarz said.
  • The board heard and approved a report from Tracy Jensen, who directs the district's Head Start Program, about a cost-of-living budget adjustment from the federal Office of Head Start and $10,000 from that office that will be used for professional development programming for staff members.
  • The board toured Ben Franklin Elementary School to see firsthand some of the attributes and drawbacks of that building.
Related Topics: GRAND FORKS SCHOOL BOARD
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 pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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