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Closing old schools, building a new one: Grand Forks scenarios considered

Members of a Grand Forks School District task force on Tuesday studied eleven scenarios that define the impact of redrawing school boundaries or closing schools.

Members of a Grand Forks School District task force on Tuesday studied eleven scenarios that define the impact of redrawing school boundaries or closing schools.

The Demographic Task Force ruled out five of the scenarios and kept the rest for more consideration or refinement.

Scenarios still under consideration include those calling for a new south end school and closure of Lewis and Clark, West and Wilder elementary schools in Grand Forks and Carl Ben Eielson at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Dismissed scenarios were taken off the table for various reasons, such as students having to cross busy streets to attend school.

The 30-member task force, which has been meeting since mid-November, is charged with eliminating or reducing inefficiencies in the system where some schools are crowded and others have room to spare.



Here are the scenarios the task force kept:

  • Close Wilder and send students to Winship Elementary.
  • Close Wilder and repurpose it for Community High School, now housed in leased space at 500 Stanford Road.
  • Close West and send students to Winship and send Winship students living east of North Washington Street to Wilder.
  • Close Eielson and send students to Twining elementary and middle school.
  • Close Lewis and Clark and send some students to Phoenix Elementary and some to Viking Elementary.
  • Send some Viking students and some from Century Elementary to Ben Franklin Elementary. Task force members said this option would be viable only if a new school is built.
  • Build a new school in the city's expanding south end.

Superintendent Larry Nybladh told the group a new school would ease enrollment pressures at Century and Kelly elementary schools. Building it would take two years from the point of School Board approval to opening its doors.
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Several parents and others spoke in favor of smaller, neighborhood schools which, they said, are important to their families' quality of life and children's safety.

City Council member Tyrone Grandstrand encouraged the task force to consider alternatives to closing a school, such as sharing principals, a model already in place, and saving money through energy efficiencies.

He also questioned how closing or repurposing schools would affect property values, and what effect that may have on recruiting young professionals to the city, a group that's crucial to economic vitality.

"I really like neighborhoods, and neighborhood schools," he said. "I prefer walking and biking, as much as possible. This may be a generational thing."

Grandstrand urged the group to continue to take its work seriously. "These decisions will affect Grand Forks for generations to come."


'Save Wilder'

Council member Eliot Glassheim urged the group to consider Grand Forks' long history of supporting neighborhood schools.

A school attracts homebuyers to a neighborhood, he said, and conversely, closing a school causes them to buy elsewhere.

He represents a north end ward that includes Wilder Elementary, which has seen enrollment shrink dramatically and is being considered for closure.

Fear about Wilder's future has led parents to enroll their children elsewhere, he said. "It's a self-fulfilling prophesy."

He pointed to post-Flood of '97 efforts which resulted in building Phoenix Elementary in the area once served by Belmont Elementary, so flood-damaged it had to be razed.

"Numbers cannot tell you what the future will be and could be," he said. "Turn your attention to how to save Wilder, then come up with the best plan to make Wilder work."

Task force member Matt Bakke asked for additional information on how to increase enrollment at Wilder and potential impacts of redrawing boundary lines of middle and high schools.


Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said the task force's scenario subcommittee would work on those, and other requests from the group, and report back to the task force.

The subcommittee meets at 9 a.m., Friday to discuss and respond to requests the task force made at its meeting Tuesday. Open to the public, the meeting will be in the computer lab of the Mark Sanford Education Center.

Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to pknudson@gfherald.com .

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 pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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