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Wendy Reuer, Published April 30 2013

Long-range facilities task force to hear financial info on Thursday

FARGO – Members of the schools’ Community Long Range Facilities Task Force here say a meeting Thursday will finally give them the information they need to move forward.

The 6 p.m. task force meeting at Agassiz School will be the fourth meeting of the task force and was scheduled to be the last. Unlike the three previous meetings, which were organized by consultants hired by the school district, Thursday’s meeting will be led by school and city officials.

John Johnson, a task force member and facilities manager at North Dakota State University, said Tuesday that the task force will finally hear financial information from the district and the city that the group needs to make informed decisions.

“We are just now getting an opportunity to work as a group and create some ideas,” Johnson said.

Johnson and fellow task force member Rebecca Knutson, Clara Barton Neighborhood Association president, provided an update on the task force’s progress to nearly 100 residents of the Clara-Barton Hawthorne neighborhoods Tuesday night.

The 28-member task force was organized as an arm of the long-range facilities planning committee, a subgroup of the school board. The school board is in the midst of forming a 10-year construction plan that can deal with enrollment pressure heating up in south Fargo, along with how to effectively manage older buildings throughout the district.

Early suggestions by district consultants opted to close or repurpose older schools such as Clara Barton, Hawthorne, Roosevelt, McKinley, Madison and Horace Mann, causing residents to rally together in an effort to preserve neighborhood schools.

When the task force first met on March 21, it was scheduled to meet four times – once every two weeks – followed by at least two communitywide discussions, before recommendations would be relayed back to the school board. On Tuesday, Johnson said he expects the task force will need to meet again after Thursday.

Johnson said it is important to hear the cost estimates of deferred maintenance at Clara Barton and Hawthorne as well as the cost of new building new facilities, which he expects to hear Thursday.

Knutson said there is a perception that older buildings are inefficient to operate, but that is not necessarily the case.

“We need all the information,” she said.

Nick Chase said he has attended three task force meetings as an audience member and is frustrated by the slow pace of the meetings as well as what he sees as a bias of the consultants against maintaining the older schools.

“I’m really hoping this is a substance change and not just a format change,” Chase said Tuesday.

In the meantime, Knutson said residents must stay vigilant about staying involved and letting school board members know the importance of retaining neighborhood schools.

“Let’s get 50 people at every school board meeting even if (facilities) is not on the agenda,” Knutson said.

For more information about Alliance for Neighborhood Schools, visit www.smallscholsfargo.com or email smallschoolsfargo@gmail.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

If you go

What: Community Long Range Facilities Task Force Meeting

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Agassiz School