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Published June 12 2010

D-G-F faces space crunch

DILWORTH – Set up portable classrooms in the school yard? Hold a class on the gym stage? Go shopping for land for a third school?

Those are questions Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton will likely tackle by next summer. Classrooms are full, and by the district’s own projections, 70 new students will enroll in the coming two years.

A private consultant has urged the district to address without delay its looming space issues: Buy land for a future third school. Meanwhile, build or lease a facility for its expanding pre-school and kindergarten population. And – in a move some board members fear might still be deeply unpopular – bring all its elementary students under one roof.

In charting a course of action, officials hope to tap the collective wisdom of a community task force they are convening.

“You can’t do anything without space,” said board member Ronnie Tang. “It’s our No. 1 issue.”

The board first started talking a third school four or five years ago, under then Superintendent Bernie Lipp, after a demographic study predicted growing student numbers. The district looked into three plots between Dilworth and Glyndon, but, says Lipp, “we really didn’t have sufficient funds to make a purchase.”

The district focused instead on passing a 2007 operating levy. A new report by Roger Worner, a Twin Cities consultant whose analysis informed Moorhead’s 2004 facilities overhaul, calls on the district to resurrect the issue.

At 1,380 students this past school year, D-G-F has added about 100 students since 2000. One of only 20 percent of Minnesota districts with growing enrollment, it’s projected to swell to more than 1,460 by 2014. Its schools are drawing on growing communities, including neighboring Moorhead, which suffered a net loss of more than 200 students to D-G-F this year.

Certainly, district officials say, a third school would mean new maintenance, kitchen and administrative teams. It would be more expensive to build than adding on to the existing buildings, where the district is now completing $4.5 million worth of repairs and upgrades. But both schools have multiple additions already – eight of them to the 1903 Glyndon facility – and fairly limited surrounding space.

“You are adding on to facilities that are already added on to,” says Superintendent Randy Bruer. “At what point do you stop and look at something new?”

Pending that decision, the Worner report suggests leasing a facility to house the preschool and kindergarten programs. In fact, the district has already discussed the idea with Dilworth developers.

Worner also urges the district to consolidate its elementary schools. The move would make it more efficient and address a range of pesky issues, especially a disparity between class sizes in Dilworth and Glyndon, where, at 15 students, some sections are less than cost-effective.

“I believe the resistance would be a lot less than it would have been even three years ago,” says Jerry Anderson, the board chair. “It’s still going to be there, for valid reasons.”

To ponder some of these possibilities, board members are enlisting a task force representing a cross section of the community: parents, empty nesters, civic leaders, farmers and more. They hope the group will bring an open mind to the discussion, which will likely start in August.

“We’ll rely on our constituents to give us some answers,” Anderson says.

More Worner Report recommendations

The report, which gives the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School District administration props for prudent fiscal management, offers suggestions beyond its facilities advice. For a full copy of the report, contact the school district at (218) 287-2371.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529