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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 10 2010

Kennedy addition plan stalls

A plan “etched in Jell-O” to add six to nine classrooms to Kennedy Elementary School by next fall failed to set Tuesday with the Fargo School Board.

The result is that in coming weeks, school district staff will do more background work on setting up a process for boundary changes and developing other options for dealing with south-side enrollment growth.

The addition plan – with a price tag ranging from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on how big the project would end up – was meant to bring Kennedy’s fifth-graders back into the building.

They have been housed for the past two years at Discovery Middle School.

It was offered by administrators and the Planning Committee as part of an enrollment management plan that included potentially changing elementary and secondary school boundaries and building another elementary school south of Interstate 94 by fall 2015.

However, board members Linda Coates, Kris Wallman, Paul Meyers and John Strand said they had expected to see more background work, and not a pre-packaged solution.

“I feel like I missed a step here,” said Coates, who added that she expected information on how an enrollment solution would be gathered and evaluated.

Strand wanted information on how many classrooms are available, where they are, and the availability of transportation, before he’d sign off on a construction project.

“What I’m looking for is more of a delineation of process. And options, popular and unpopular,” he said.

Dinah Goldenberg, a member of the Planning Committee, said the ability to add space to Kennedy quickly was discovered by coincidence as the boundary issue was discussed.

“We felt it was important to bring it back to the board tonight” to see if there was support for it, Goldenberg said.

But, “if we add onto Kennedy, it shapes the process of the decisions in the future,” Meyers said.

President Jim Johnson wondered if the project could be started in time to finish in time for school opening, and added, “I would personally rather delay (returning) the fifth-graders for a year” and get the boundaries right districtwide.

Superintendent Rick Buresh said the plan was “etched in Jell-O. … This is the first kick at the can on this.”

He said he and his staff would work to come up with more options, more detail on the boundary change process, and more detail on buildings, space and transportation.

Administrators had offered an enrollment management plan through 2015, estimating student numbers growing by nearly 90 students a year in the Kennedy and Bennett areas.

The plan calls for designing and building by next fall extra classrooms onto Kennedy.

In the meantime, school boundary issues would be worked through by the school board and district stakeholders.

Ultimately, the plan called for building and opening a new south side elementary by fall 2015.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583