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Paula Quam, Forum Communications, Published November 14 2012

Detroit Lakes school officials back new $45M elementary school

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – The Detroit Lakes School Board and administration have agreed that a new elementary school is needed to address the district’s increasingly problematic space issues.

Board members, Superintendent Doug Froke and Education Director Lowell Niklaus reached a consensus Tuesday night that out of the several options laid out on the table for consideration, the best one is to build a new K-3 elementary school somewhere either within or just outside of the city limits.

Under the plan, the new 1,000-student elementary school would house all Detroit Lakes students in kindergarten through third grade.

Although steering committee members expressed a desire to build somewhere on the south side of the city, property could prove to be tough to acquire there, as the school would require at least 25 acres, plus additional land for any practice fields.

The new building, along with a gym expansion at the high school, six new classrooms and mechanical upgrades, would cost somewhere around

$45.3 million, not including land for the new building.

An option of building a new middle school would have cost nearly $10 million more, plus an additional cost for the extra eight acres of land a middle school would require.

With the idea of a new elementary school, the plan has all fourth- and fifth-graders at the current Roosevelt building (originally built for only 450 students) and the middle school would return to be used for just sixth through eighth grades.

Now, administrators and staff will be working to determine what their needs are for each school, as the middle school and high school would also see some upgrades, including a high school gym expansion.

School Board Chairman Tom Seaworth said the one thing that haunts him is that the high school gym somehow was built under regulation, and this time things need to be right.

“We get one shot at this,” Seaworth said. “So we need to make sure that when we do this, we have all of our needs met going into it – maybe not all of our wants, but our needs, because right now we have no restrictions because nothing has been built.”

Seaworth went on to not only stress the importance of planning for adequate gym space, but also a wrestling room and enough space for art and music programs, while ensuring there is a proper setup for a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

Although there was talk of possibly trying to get a referendum to the voters by February, the board instead opted to not push it through Tuesday night, but to instead take the chosen plan back to the steering committee for a final stamp of approval from them before moving forward.

If they get that, the project would be set to go on the April ballot. The proposal is very roughly estimated to cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $238 a year with a 20-year bond, with variables expected to throw that number around some.

The next steering committee meeting is Nov. 28.