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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 24 2013

Is plan to build at Ed Clapp Park a schoolyard of dreams?

FARGO – Ed Clapp Park is one of the few green spaces in a sprawling mix of homes, condos, apartment blocks and strip malls that surround it in south Fargo.

Between the Carlson Library on the south and a playground on the north are 15 acres of football and soccer fields that some Fargo Public Schools officials see as a possible fix for elementary school overcrowding south of Interstate 94.

But – and there’s a whole lot of buts – much has to be negotiated before school bells can ring there, officials said Wednesday.

The Park District would have to approve giving up the land. The Clapp family would have to sign off on the deal. The school board would have to find the cash to build it.

Just call it the Schoolyard of Dreams.

The idea has been floated quietly between Fargo school and park district officials in the past couple months, but no one acted seriously on it until Tuesday’s Fargo School Board meeting.

That’s when board member John Strand dropped his surprise.

Strand said it was time to consider building a neighborhood school in the Bluemont Lakes area. In a series of motions, he cobbled together a 6-3 majority to direct administrators to ask the Fargo Park Board to allow soil testing there to see if the ground is stable enough to hold the weight of a school.

“The writing is on the wall. Fargo’s growth down south is going to require additional services for kids down south. That’s just inevitable,” Strand said Wednesday.

Recent school board discussions have focused on relieving over-enrollment at Kennedy Elementary.

Tuesday night’s focus was on the idea of transferring Kennedy school’s younger Bluemont Lakes students (kindergarten through second grade in 2013-14 and K-3 in 2014-15) to the Eagles Education Center.

Strand said Bluemont area students are shifted and jostled around every time nearby schools need an enrollment boundary adjustment.

Strand got the idea from Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams, who asked him why the board hadn’t considered the site for a school. Strand said he then brought the idea to Superintendent Jeff Schatz.

Schatz then broached the idea in informal meetings with city officials, Strand said. He reported back that the concept hadn’t been dismissed. There was curiosity out there, Strand said.

‘Mount Fargo’

The big worry is site stability.

About 20 years ago, the site was where clay spoil from the Interstate 29 underpasses was piled to create a mini ski hill. The resulting “Mount Fargo” stood 60 feet high. But the weight of the pile compressed the soil and the hill fractured and dirt slipped, Park District Executive Director Roger Gress said.

That ended that experiment, and the land was later donated to the Park District.

During the 2009 flood, some of the soil was removed from the park to build dikes.

That soil was replaced and re-compacted, Gress said. Still, it’s a history that leaves worries about the soil.

Gress said the School District will have to do a lot of legwork to get a school built in the park. He suggests the school board put a proposal together and formally approach the park board.

School district officials will also have to get the blessing of the Clapp family, which donated the land to the Park District.

Gress said the park board would also want to meet with the Clapps and the neighborhood.

If it all works out, then the two entities can work out a land swap, Gress said.

Resident reaction

Not many Bluemont area residents were out and about Wednesday afternoon. Among those who were, opinions differed.

“Why don’t we use the schools we got?” asked Chuck Carney. “We’ve got schools on the north side that are empty. Change the boundaries!”

“I would hate to lose a city park,” said Julie Carriveau. “I do know the kids out here have been shuffled around. If that (a school) could help them, I could see exploring it.”

Pat Chinquist doesn’t see many children in her cul-de-sac, but she knows a lot of youngsters live in the apartments a few blocks away.

“I always figure that if they need schools, they need schools,” Chinquist said. “I don’t like sending 50 kids to a class.”

At the board meeting, Strand took some criticism for the proposal, as at least one board member saw it as potentially short-circuiting the district’s long-range facilities plans. The district is in the midst of creating a new 10-year construction plan.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the planning process … but I think when we have all the information, we’ll have some things that we can agree on” to help Kennedy Elementary and Bluemont Lakes, Strand said.

“Somehow, somewhere, someplace, it had to start,” Strand said.

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