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Devils Lake school district crowdsources ideas about future of Central Middle School building

As Devils Lake Public Schools tries for a new middle school, the future of the historic old middle school building is up for discussion.

The Devils Lake School Board is moving forward with a referendum for facilities improvements, including a new middle school, after learning Central Middle School, built in 1937, would cost the district $17.2 million in maintenance costs over the next five to 10 years.
Contributed / Devils Lake Tourism
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DEVILS LAKE – Community members envision a future for the Central Middle School building that is less scholastic, but still present in Devils Lake. Classrooms could become apartment units or storage lockers. Its kitchen and cafeteria, which have served students lunch since 1937, could be used in other ways in the community. A business could occupy the building as office space.

Devils Lake Public Schools Superintendent Matt Bakke estimates between 45 and 60 community members offered up their ideas for how Central Middle School could be used in the future at a meeting at the middle school on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

“It was a good opportunity to visit with the community members on the overall building and we were happy with the amount of people that showed up,” he said.

Last month, the Devils Lake School Board scheduled the $31.8 million referendum election that would fund a new middle school building and additions to Prairie View Elementary for Oct. 11. The move came after learning that maintenance costs for Central Middle School to continue operating would total $17.2 million over the next five to 10 years. Should the referendum pass in October, the district will continue to use Central Middle School until a new building is completed. Then, the school district will not be able to use both buildings.

Superintendent Terry Brenner said the initial brochure gave “a false narrative” about the ACT scores achieved by Grand Forks students who generally take the exam in their junior year of high school.

The building, which was opened in 1937, originally as Central High School, is on the National Register of Historic Places for both its historical impact and architecture. It was designed by John Marshall and Nairne Fisher in an Art Deco style. According to the description of the building written for its application to the National Register of Historic Places, it was funded in part by a $159,545 Works Progress Administration grant and the rest was paid for with $175,000 in bonds, which was overwhelmingly approved by Devils Lake voters.


Central High School housed grades seven through 12 until 1992, when a new high school was opened. Since 1992, the building has been known as Central Middle School, and houses grades five through eight.

“When you have that many years in a building like that, it does hold a lot of special value to people,” said Bakke.

Tuesday evening’s meeting allowed people to tour Central Middle School, view examples of what other communities have done with old school buildings and provide the district with written ideas for how to use the Central Middle School building in the future.

“There was a lot of just general conversation and ideas and feedback thrown out,” he said. “We’ll look through the list and see what might be potential options that we could put out RFPs for and potentially look at some private investors from there.”

The district plans to hold public meetings to discuss the referendum election with the community ahead of the October election, scheduled tentatively for Sept. 22 and Oct. 5. Then depending on the result of that vote, said Bakke, more meetings will be held specifically about the future of Central Middle School.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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