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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 28 2013

Not everyone likes idea of elementary school in Fargo's Ed Clapp Park

FARGO - Whether an elementary school gets built in Ed Clapp Park will depend in good measure on input from nearby residents, school and park district officials say.

So far, that reaction is mixed.

“I’m not too excited about it,” said Tim Vilhauer, who lives at 3040 31st St. S. “We picked this lot because of the open field.”

Vilhauer’s backyard opens onto the park. He values the green space, but said it helps to know that proposed plans for the school put it in the southeast section of the park, away from his home and others bordering the western and northern edges of the park.

“I know there are quite a few neighbors not too happy with it,” and a few have talked about selling if a school goes up, Vilhauer said last week.

A few doors down, Andrea Berge at 3124 31st St. S. said a school may be just what the Bluemont Lakes area needs.

“I’m open to it. They (the school district) could use the space. I know the neighborhood could use it. This neighborhood would really appreciate the stability,” Berge said.

Katie Anderson lives in the Westlake Townhomes, between 32nd Street South and the west edge of Ed Clapp Park.

Her family was also drawn by the park, but “if they want to build a school, I’m not entirely opposed to it.”

Bryan Ackley, a few townhomes away, wants to hear more details.

“There’s not a lot of space in this area. Schools are needed, I know that,” but the area needs a place for dogs and kids to play, too, he said.

Residents in and around Bluemont Lakes will get more details on the school plan at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 6 at Discovery Middle School, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Schatz said.

Fliers about the meeting are going to several thousand homes, he said.

Schatz said the proposed school site in the southeast part of the park is “the perfect spot.” The land is more stable than other areas of the park, access to the school can be easily created and parking can be shared with nearby Bethel Church, saving green space.

The preliminary plan calls for a two-story, four- classrooms-per-grade school for kindergarten through fifth-graders. It would hold 450 to 500 students, Schatz said.

He told the school board the building as envisioned would be 82,000 square feet, but staff will try to trim it to 75,000 square feet.

Nearly two-thirds of the original park remains green space in the proposal, with three soccer fields rebuilt north of the school, and a walking path built around the park. The school will also have two playgrounds for younger and older children, Schatz said.

From the city’s perspective, the plan is solid, said Director of Planning Jim Gilmour.

“I think it’s an excellent site for an elementary school,” he said, noting that a few hundred children live relatively nearby. “For a lot of people, it’s going to be very walkable.”

Gilmour said the city would build a short road to connect 30th Avenue South with 28th Street to create more access to the school. He said starting and ending times for elementary schools also keep most school traffic out of rush hour, so the added bus and car traffic shouldn’t badly affect surrounding streets.

He added that the area is already zoned to allow the construction of a school.

“I think we’re real supportive of trying to make it work,” Gilmour said. “It’s an excellent asset to the neighborhood.”

For the Park District, the school is not a foregone conclusion, Executive Director Roger Gress said.

While the Ed Clapp family has given their blessing to repurposing some of the park for a school, parks commissioners want to hear what the area’s residents think, then decide whether to sign off on any deal involving cash or a land swap with the school district, Gress said.

“It’s a very big thing to see how the community feels,” he said.

From a personal perspective, Gress said it looks like school officials have done their homework.

“It looks to me like they’ve put a lot of effort into maintaining the integrity of that park land and moved it as far away from the neighborhood as conceivably possible,” Gress said. “They’ve worked very diligently to maintain the bulk of the green space.”

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