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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 12 2013

Fargo School Board focusing on facilities plan; administrators tackling crowding at Kennedy

FARGO – The Fargo School Board will work on a new long-term facilities plan this summer, while counting on district administrators to develop a short-term solution to crowding at Kennedy Elementary School, officials said Saturday.

The board made the decisions after a daylong retreat with presentations by consultants who studied Fargo schools, enrollment trends and the area’s demographics.

Board President Jim Johnson said ICS Consulting will produce its final facilities report – complete with recommendations on whether to build, expand, repurpose or close schools – in the next 30 days, perhaps even by the board’s next meeting on Jan. 22.

Johnson expects “multiple potential tracks of recommendations.”

Then comes the debate to solidify the district’s direction on the issue, he said.

“I think I sense from the (school board) that we’d like to have the work of the plan,” including community engagement sessions, “in place by the end of summer,” Johnson said.

Then RSP and Associates, a firm that specializes in demographics and boundaries planning, will return to work on a broader school attendance boundaries plan, he said.

In the meantime, Johnson said administrators will work up a plan by the end of April to deal with continued rising student numbers in the Kennedy attendance area.

Kennedy has 723 students, with a capacity of 748 students. By this fall, it could open with 832 students, if the students who live around Kennedy all opt to attend there, an RSP projection shows.

Plans also must be made to head off crowding at Lewis and Clark, Bennett and Lincoln elementary schools, Johnson said.

Superintendent Jeff Schatz said Kennedy, which just got its fifth-graders back this year after having them sent for several years to Discovery Middle School due to crowding, is the most pressing concern.

Lewis and Clark is full. It has 549 students and a capacity of 528. While it may see 543 students this fall if only those who live around it attend there, it could see as many as 581 students if other students who are allowed to attend there opt to do so, RSP estimates.

“Kennedy might be a hot spot now, but Lewis and Clark (Elementary) is a big hot spot, too,” Schatz said.

Bennett has 614 students now, and a capacity of 682. But by 2015-16, it could have 684 to 719 students, RSP figures show.

Lincoln, too, is filling. It has 498 students with a capacity for 572. But by 2016-17, it could have 580 students.

Enrollment projections for Clara Barton Elementary were a surprise for some. It has 173 students and a capacity for 198. But RSP estimates it could have 209 to 219 students next fall.

Rick Steen and other board members said returning the fifth-graders to Discovery for a year or two may be the best safety valve for Kennedy, and not require another debate over school boundaries.

The work by ICS Consulting and RSP will cost about $60,000, Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

ICS evaluated Fargo’s schools, creating detailed profiles of each building, including cost estimates of 10-year maintenance and improvements, energy, and costs per student per square foot.

RSP provided enrollment projections and demographics of neighborhoods and the schools that serve them.

“These will be the cornerstones of the decisions you make,” said Rob Schwarz, RSP’s principal planner.

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