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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 21 2013

Boundaries debate part of Fargo School District's long-range plan

FARGO – Should Evan Nichols be a South High School Bruin or a North High School Spartan?

Right now, the Clara Barton/Hawthorne Elementary first-grader – and expert jungle gym climber – is on track to attend the midtown schools Carl Ben Eielson Middle School and South.

But by 2015, the school board will need to change secondary attendance areas to beef up enrollments at Ben Franklin Middle School and North, the district’s new long-range facilities plan states.

That plan, which has been worked on since late last fall, gets its first reading at tonight’s school board meeting.

The debate over attendance areas could be some time off, but depending on how it’s decided, Evan could end up riding a bus or walking to school.

Evan’s father, Patrick Nichols, said Monday that he bought a home near Carl Ben, 1601 13th Ave. S., so his son could enjoy an easy stroll to school. The Nichols family lives at 1522 11th Ave. S.

“I’m not too big of a fan of that [moving students north],” Nichols said. “I’d rather have him go [to Carl Ben], where he could walk to school.”

With student numbers dipping at Ben Franklin and North, and rising at Discovery Middle School and Davies High School in the far south, balancing secondary enrollments will require shifting students north, the long-range plan states.

At a minimum, attendance boundaries in mid-to-south elementary schools, including Jefferson and Clara Barton/Hawthorne, will need to be adjusted to move some fifth-graders to Ben Franklin, 1420 8th St. N., and North High, 801 17th Ave. N., the plan states.

The Clara Barton/Hawthorne attendance area is bounded by Main Avenue on the north, the Red River on the east, and Interstate 94 on the south. The eastern boundary, starting from Main, goes south on University Drive to 8th Avenue South, west to 17th Street South, south on 17th Street to 13th Avenue South, east to 15th Street South, south on 15th Street to 15th Avenue South, east on 15th Avenue to University Drive, and south to I-94.

The Jefferson attendance area is bounded on the north by Main Avenue and the south by 13th Avenue South. The eastern boundary is shared with the Clara Barton/Hawthorne school. The western boundary, from Main Avenue: about one block east of 34th Street South it goes about two blocks south to some railroad tracks and follows the railroad tracks east to 25th Street South, south to 6th Avenue South, then west to 36th Street South, and south to 13th Avenue South.

The facilities plan also calls for:

• Using this winter to design a new elementary school at Ed Clapp Park in south Fargo, and install air conditioning at Clara Barton, Horace Mann, Lewis and Clark, Madison, McKinley and Roosevelt elementary schools.

• Breaking ground in spring 2014 for the school at Ed Clapp Park. It would open in fall 2015.

• Starting the installation of air conditioning in summer 2014 in schools without air.

• Buying more land for elementary schools west of Interstate 29 and south of 76th Avenue south, winter 2014-15.

• Starting the design phase for another southside elementary school by fall 2017, if needed.

• Beginning construction of an addition to Discovery Middle School in spring 2019. That may include adding a music room, physical education space, and a larger commons/lunchroom area.

“One of the problems we have right now are Ben Franklin and North are under capacity,” Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

That will require shifting some fifth-graders north, he said. The school board will have to figure out how many students will be future Spartans, and from what areas they’ll be drawn. No specific plan has been put forward, Schatz said.

A new school at Ed Clapp Park will ease crowding for Kennedy and Lewis and Clark elementary schools, Schatz said.

More secondary school boundary adjustments shouldn’t have to be made until enrollments at Discovery and Davies get too high, he said.

Fargo School District enrollment bottomed out in 2010-11 at 10,307 students but has been on the rise since.

Midrange enrollment projections by demographics consultant RSP and Associates call for the district to have 11,007 students in 2014-15, rising to 12,061 by the 2018-19 school year.

Much of that growth is expected to be south of Interstate 94. That will eventually require expanding Discovery Middle School, and is expected to push Davies over its 1,350-student capacity to 1,388 by 2018-19.

If southside elementary enrollments continue to climb, the district will either have to expand the Eagles Center into an elementary school, build a new school on an elementary site just east of Davies High School, or build at another site, Schatz said.

An important part of the plan is that the school board will review it every January.

“What I want this to be is a living document. … so we never have to start from scratch again,” he said.

In addition, the district now has a 10-year plan for all of the operational maintenance needs of its buildings, he said.

Standing outside of Clara Barton, loaded down with her 5-year-old son’s coat, book, gloves and backpack, Laura Ronngren isn’t too worried about future enrollment boundaries debates.

Her daughter, Dinah, a third-grader at Clara Barton, could be affected by a change in secondary attendance boundaries, too. But Mom is focused more on the classroom than on the school mascots.

“As long as the class sizes don’t change too dramatically,” Ronngren said. “The kids need to know they matter to the teachers.”

The second reading of the long-range plan is scheduled for Nov. 12.

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