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Valley Middle survey respondents favor rebuild over renovation

Referendum to rebuild Valley would have $61 million price tag, include a new central kitchen facility for the district

Valley Middle School.jpeg
Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, photographed June 9, 2021. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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GRAND FORKS — A majority of Grand Forks County voters surveyed would support a $61 million bond referendum , according to results from a survey administered in consultation between Grand Forks Public Schools, ICON Architects and the Donovan Group, a Wisconsin-based communications firm focused on public education.

The bond referendum would include $55 million for building a new Valley Middle School, with the remaining $6 million to construct a new central kitchen facility at the Mark Sanford Education Center.

The Grand Forks School Board voted earlier this year to postpone the bond referendum — previously set for September — to the spring of 2023.

The survey, which ran from Nov. 10-28, garnered 1,210 responses. Of these responses, 308 were derived from a “comparison group”, consisting of county residents having no affiliation with the school district, meaning respondents could not be district employees or parents of students in the district. The comparison group’s responses were weighted 70%, in order to more accurately represent a bond referendum vote, according to Kyle Kvamme, director of community engagement and project development at ICON.

“Statistically, 65-75% of voters in school district bond referendums have no affiliation with the district they are voting for,” said Kvamme. “We weighted the comparison group’s responses this way to gain a more accurate picture of what the vote might look like in the spring.”

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When asked about support for the $61 million bond referendum to rebuild Valley and construct a new central kitchen facility, 73.31% of respondents in the noncomparison group, and 66.09% in the comparison group said they would “definitely” or “probably” support the initiative. The levels of support for a $54.7 million bond referendum to renovate Valley, and construct the aforementioned central kitchen, were 56.69% and 50.93%, respectively.

Should the $61 million bond referendum succeed, it would come with an annual property tax burden of $79.47 per $100,000 of appraised value.

Perry Hibner, lead survey strategist for the Donovan Group, the organization that developed and administered the survey in consultation with ICON and the district, said the higher level of support for rebuilding rather than renovating Valley is telling.

“With the data we have provided in the survey, it appears that people feel like Valley has run its course,” said Hibner. “They see rebuilding as the most cost effective option.”

In addition to the proposed rebuilding of Valley, the survey also asked voters to consider school security upgrades in the district, including adding controlled-access entrances to schools that do not currently have them.

77.6% of respondents in the non-comparison group, and 71.14% of those in the comparison group, stated they would definitely or probably support the allocation of $18 million in capital funds to bolster school security. This addition would result in an annual property tax burden of $23.45 per $100,000 of appraised value.

With the knowledge of voters’ preferences in hand, the district and ICON will proceed to the planning and design phase for a new Valley Middle school. This process will bring together students, parents and faculty, as well as county residents who have no affiliation with the district, to provide input with regards to the most desirable way to construct the new middle school.

Following the design and planning period, which will last from mid-January to the end of February, district officials will reconvene to draft specific ballot language, with May 9, 2023 as a target date for the referendum.

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