School Board approves recommendation to keep West closed next school year

West Elementary School
West Elementary School in Grand Forks.

West Elementary School is free of mold and “everything is dry at that building,” Chris Arnold, director of buildings and grounds for the school district, told members of the Grand Forks School Board on Tuesday, April 14.

But further work on the school’s HVAC and water drainage systems and water-proofing -- estimated to cost $1.85 million -- will be delayed until after the district’s 50-member Facilities Task Force has completed its study of all school properties this fall, the board decided. With this information, coupled with the recent discovery of elevated radon levels within the school, the board agreed with administrators that the school should be closed for the next school year.

School administrators recommended, and the board confirmed, that this latest information on West will be given to the task force to consider as part of its analysis of district facilities as a whole as it works to develop recommendations for the future, including a referendum next year.

“If we’re able to apply to FEMA and can get potentially significant funds for remodeling (at West), that would be better than dipping into our district project funds,” and the work could be done after the next school year begins, said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager.

The recent discovery of unacceptable levels of radon at West Elementary School prompted school district administrators to recommend to the School Board that the school be closed for the 2020-21 school year.


West students and teachers were relocated, their classrooms intact, to Discovery Elementary. Their classes were held there from March 2 until all schools were closed by the governor March 16 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also approved the appointment of David Nowatzki, principal at Carrington, N.D., Public School, as principal at Elroy Schroeder Middle School, effective July 1.

He will take over for Chris Douthit, who last summer accepted a one-year interim position at the school.

Nowatzki has 10 years’ experience as a grade 7-12 principal and, prior to that, worked 12 years as a science teacher, including eight at Red River High School.

Nowatzki was selected from a field of 13 applicants, said Superintendent Terry Brenner, and was among five candidates with head principal experience who were interviewed.

As Schroeder’s principal, Nowatzki’s salary for the 2020-21 school year will be $128,526.

In other action, the board voted to request that proposed language changes in the non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy be further reviewed by members of its Policy Review Committee, headed by Cynthia Shabb.

The language changes involve wording on sexual orientation and gender expression in an effort to promote a more inclusive educational environment and protect people in the LGBT+ community from bullying, harassment or other forms of victimization.


The Policy Review Committee plans to meet and refine the language for recommendation to the board at its next regular meeting on April 28.

The School Board also voted to continue paying employees for all regularly scheduled hours of work from April 11 through May 15. Board members plan to revisit the district’s pay practices at their May 11 meeting.

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 or (701) 780-1107.
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