Grand Forks School District voters to decide on new Valley Middle School on Tuesday

$79 million referendum seeks to rebuild Valley Middle School, relocate central kitchen facility and upgrade school safety and security.

Valley Middle School.jpeg
Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, photographed June 9, 2021. (Grand Forks Herald photo)

GRAND FORKS – As voters head to the polls to decide the fate of a $79 million referendum on Tuesday, May 16, Grand Forks Public Schools officials and opponents of the referendum make their final case for and against the proposal.

The referendum will ask voters whether they support a $55 million project to rebuild Valley Middle School, $6 million to relocate the district’s central kitchen facility to the grounds of the Mark Sanford Education Center and $18 million in building security upgrades.

To pass, the referendum must receive a super majority, or at least 60%, of “yes” votes. Should it succeed, the estimated tax impact would be $96.97 per $100,000 of a residential property’s “true and full value.” Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alerus Center.

Superintendent Terry Brenner previously told the Herald that Valley — which is nearly 70 years old — is obsolete from an instructional standpoint.

“We need this because the current building was built in 1954, around an educational factory model where we would move 30 kids from room to room around specific content,” Brenner told the Herald earlier this spring. “That’s not the model of how kids learn today.”


Brenner also said the building is plagued with numerous infrastructure-related deficiencies.

“Most of the classrooms have two (electrical) outlets at best,” Brenner said. “Every student has (an electronic) device, and we can’t even charge devices overnight or we blow fuses. I often say we’re one steam pipe leak away from having to close that building down in the winter.”

Regarding school security, Brenner says the district has had procedures in place since 1999. These include push-to-talk systems and locked doors at all schools, with the exception of certain doors at Central and Red River high schools that are monitored by security personnel.

However, in pursuing its proposed upgrades, the district believes security can be improved. Kyle Kvamme, director of community engagement and project development with ICON Architects — a Grand Forks firm hired by the district to assist with the referendum — previously told the Herald that the $18 million would be partially used to upgrade the district’s mass notification systems.

Additionally, the district would relocate school offices to the main entrance of each building, so staff can ascertain the purpose of all visits.

“Ideally, as people approach the door, there would be visibility from office staff,” Kvamme told the Herald during a meeting in April. “Then they’d enter a secure vestibule, into a spot where they can be closely observed. These doors would all be locked except for when school’s getting in and out. Then, you’d come and sign in, and either be asked to take a seat, given access to the school or provided with an escort to where you need to go. Only after that process do you get into the school.”

The proposal has opponents. Among them is Scott Lindgren, a member of the “vote no” campaign during the district’s failed 2021 referendum. In an interview with the Herald last week , he believes the district should have used its allocation of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) to address issues at Valley and other schools.

“With the three ESSER programs, the district could get up to $26 million,” Lindgren said. “When you take 20% out of there — for taking care of kids with special needs — it leaves you with about $21 million that could be spent on fixing roofs, new HVAC and windows and improving energy efficiency. They haven’t even wanted to discuss that. I’d rather see them come out with a comprehensive plan for the years ahead rather than this dartboard approach.”


Additionally, other opponents are concerned about the referendum’s overall ask, and feel the questions of rebuilding Valley and the proposed security upgrades should be separated. Last month, Whitney Berry told the Herald she agrees Valley needs to be rebuilt , but believes the referendum’s $79 million price tag will deter voters from delving into its deeper details.

“Not a lot of people are interested in the nitty gritty of details,” Berry said. “They’re just going to look at the dollar amount and say ‘no, that’s too much.’ It’s not that people don’t support education as a concept, but they’ve been told so many conflicting stories in a short period of time about the district’s financial situation, and the condition of the buildings.”

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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