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Published October 14 2010

D-G-F task force takes on space crunch

It took hours of lively debate that occasionally left the group feeling stumped, but a Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton community task force seems to have rallied around a possible solution to an impending school space crunch.

The growing district’s two schools are almost to capacity. Most options for making room come with downsides and call for help from taxpayers.

District leaders convened the community task force this summer to help brainstorm ideas. The 20-some members looked at a slew of possibilities, from portable classrooms to building a new school.

“Do we look ahead and think, ‘Let’s build’?” said LeAnn Gifford, a district parent and the head of the group. “Or do we put a Band-Aid on it and start remodeling?”

This summer, a Twin Cities consultant urged the district to address its space issues without delay. D-G-F has added students in recent years, and officials project it will swell by another 70 students in the next couple of years.

“We are going to grow – I will put my money on that,” said former Superintendent Bernie Lipp, one of the residents – parents, retirees and community leaders – the school board tapped for ideas.

The group has already given the thumbs down to one consultant recommendation: consolidating the district’s elementaries in Dilworth and Glyndon at the Dilworth site. Though such a change would help with a class size imbalance between the two sites, neither community is ready to part with its elementary, the group felt.

When it comes to lining up more classrooms, the task force considered several options.

The district can use a lease levy of up to $150 per pupil to rent portable classrooms. Such a levy would not require a public vote. But for most task force members, such classrooms are an unattractive fix that gobbles up resources without offering a lasting solution.

The district could add on to its existing buildings. But space is fairly limited around both schools, and, task force members worry that expanding might dull the district’s small-school edge. Besides, it wouldn’t solve lunchroom and gym crowding.

The consultant, Roger Worner, has advised the district to look into building a center for the district’s preschool and kindergarten programs. But the task force didn’t like the idea of splitting youngsters after they bond at this center, and it would only free up so much room.

Task force members did like the idea of a junior high school on land the district would purchase west of Dilworth. It would free up a larger number of classrooms and offer students a smoother transition to high school, said Gifford: “We are keeping them self-contained instead of having them grow up faster.”

If enrollment continues to grow, the district could expand the facility into a new high school. The district hasn’t estimated costs for expanding its schools or building new.

Task force members are nervous about asking voters to back a building bond in lean times. The district will likely try to renew its $500-per-pupil operating levy next year.

“Times are tough,” said task force member Jeanne Vigness, “and I don’t know if we’d be able to squeak by with a referendum.”

There’s also the question of where to build the new facility. (See map.)

The task force will wrap up its discussion at a final meeting on Oct. 26. It will present its findings to the school board on Nov. 8.

“It’s entirely in their hands and what they wish to do with our recommendations,” Gifford said.


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