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It’s grant first, busing later for Grand Forks Career Impact Academy planners

The school and business leaders who are working to get funding for a hoped-for Career Impact Academy haven't yet begun to worry about transporting students there. For the moment, their focus is on securing the money to build the academy itself.

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The Grand Forks civic business leaders who are working to put together a career and technical academy for high schoolers say they haven’t begun to work out how students would show up for classes there.

Their top priority, for now, is securing the state grant that would pay for approximately half of the academy’s $20 million construction cost, which means, in part, coming up with about $10 million worth of donations by mid November, when School Board members are set to consider a formal application for the grant. If that goes according to plan, the “Career Impact Academy” would be ready for students about two years from now.

Thus far, transportation “is not a conversation that has taken place,” according to Tracy Jentz, a Grand Forks Public Schools spokesperson. “We would have conversations about transportation later in the process.”

Chris Arnold, the district’s director of buildings and grounds who also oversees its transportation, could not be reached for comment last week.

Regardless, at some point, Grand Forks students would need to head to the new building, which would sit near the intersection of I-29 and Gateway Drive, every school day. The three options -- driving, taking a school bus, or taking a city bus -- each have pitfalls: many students don’t have ready access to a car, and Grand Forks Public Schools and Cities Area Transit are both struggling to find enough drivers for the routes they already have.

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“We’ve got some time,” Eric Ripley, the school district’s executive director of career and technical education and technology, told the Herald. “The current shortage of bus drivers doesn’t immediately impact the ability and success of the academy.”

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Dale Bergman, director of the city's transportation division, stops at Viking Elementary School in Grand Forks Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Bergman is filling in during the bus driver shortage. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

A similar academy in Ohio has students there throughout the day, Ripley said, but “CIA” planners want to use a block schedule that would let students spend, say, the first half of their day at the academy before heading to their regular school during their lunch period, or vice versa. And that would presumably mean crafting additional bus routes.

As it stands, the proposed academy in Grand Forks would sit about 3.3 miles by car from Red River High School and 3 miles by car from Central High School. That spot was chosen in part because it sits adjacent to a city bus stop.

A similar academy in Grafton is attached to the high school there, and another academy in Jamestown is a few hundred yards down the street from Jamestown High School. School administrators in Jamestown shuttle students back and forth between the two buildings to keep them from making the trek in freezing cold weather. And an academy in Oklahoma, Ripley said, relies on a combination of district transit, public transit and students driving themselves.

“We’re going to continue to work through the various options,” Ripley said. “Right now, students driving themselves seems to work in some programs, but it could be a limiting factor for accessibility for some kids….I think it will probably end up being a combination of factors that would probably end up being the solution because it may take that to fit all needs.”

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