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Despite low turnout, discussion lively at DL school mtng

Though Wednesday night’s open forum meeting to discuss the future of Detroit Lakes public school facilities didn’t bring a huge turnout — undoubtedly due, in part, to the abnormally cold temperatures and biting wind chill that have dominated local weather over this past week — those who did show up had quite a lot to say.

“We do wish we would have had some more people come,” said Ladd Lyngaas, chair of the Detroit Lakes School Board.

“Maybe we need to do a better job of getting the word out (for any future such meetings),” he added. “But I think we did have some great comments and discussions that will be very helpful to the board in deciding what the next step in this process should be.

“I think this community wants to help the district make those decisions, and wants to be involved, and that’s all good.”

Chris Gibbs of DLR Group, the firm hired by the school district last summer to help guide them through the process of preparing for a $59 million school bond referendum, facilitated Wednesday night’s meeting.

He noted that while the school board was disappointed in the outcome of that referendum — which failed to pass — they remain “committed to the students of this school, and this community, and doing what’s right for them.”

What they need now, however, is input from the community regarding exactly what form “doing what’s right” should take in the future.

“They can’t do things in isolation,” Gibbs added.

Those in attendance at the meeting responded to the call for input, with some going into great detail.

Brad Carlson, who had served as one of the election judges during the Nov. 5 referendum vote, said he “got an earful” from the people who were voting that day.

One of the things they were asking was why the city wasn’t approached about closing the street between Rossman School and the People’s Park, and expanding the school to the south, he said.

Another issue was Rossman’s portable classrooms on the south side of the building, which were intended to be temporary when they were built 25 years ago, still hadn’t been replaced.

One big concern expressed by those present, which possibly might explain why the referendum failed to pass, was that many were opposed to the idea of abandoning Rossman as a “neighborhood school,” in favor of moving to a new site north of town.

“The plan for Rossman school killed this thing, it really did,” said Tom Trowbridge. “We felt Rossman should remain a neighborhood school, and that’s a question that really has to be discussed.”

He said he felt that “by the time I was able to get engaged in this process, I felt like all of the decisions had already been made. I felt we were left out of a lot of the process.”

Trowbridge said he sincerely hoped the district could get another bond referendum going, and soon, because “we really do need the room.”

“My personal feeling is that it’s the location (of the new school) that was the problem,” said community resident Mitch Wimmer. “People weren’t really convinced that this was the best option, and that we looked at all the options.”

When Gibbs asked those present to answer the question of whether Rossman School “needs to stay in the mix as an educational building,” the response was a definitive, “Yes.”

Former school board member Deb Wimmer said that she had heard some input about the possibility of replacing the high school instead of one of the elementary buildings.

“I think we could have a more state-of-the-art high school,” she said, referring to the possibility of building a school that incorporates the latest technological advances rather than trying to retro-fit an older building to accommodate those needs.

Gibbs noted that the board had been looking at replacing the high school as part of its long-range planning, but opted to focus on the elementary buildings first.

“You should trust your board, and trust that they are being as thoughtful as they should be,” he said, but added that what he was hearing was that “the communication (from the school board prior to the referendum) wasn’t what it should be. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t enough.”

After much discussion, Gibbs also noted that the success or failure of any future bond referendums is going to depend on how engaged community residents are in the process.

“This community has to own this decision… you’re the ones showing up at the polls, you’re the ones voting,” he said. “What the board has to figure out is how to engage you, and all of your friends in this process. If they don’t, we’re going to be right back here again.”

Follow DL Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454