A look at the DL schools plan
If Detroit Lakes area residents still have lingering questions about the upcoming $59 million dollar school bond referendum, that was not reflected in attendance for Monday night’s community informational meeting.
A few dozen people sat listening to Superintendent Doug Froke as he made a case for why the district needs the ‘yes’ votes, with many in attendance being school and community leaders.
The meeting was the first in three that are being held before the Nov. 5 election as a way to inform District 22 voters on the issue and to ensure they have the correct information as they head to the polls.
“This is a very personal thing, and we get that,” said Froke, who laid out the timeline of events that led to the projects being proposed, beginning in 2011 with consultants that had studied both space and enrollment issues.
“We wanted to know, are we using our space as best we can and also, will growth continue?” said Froke. “And the answer for both was ‘yes.’”
In 2012, outside experts were once again brought in to pinpoint the deficiencies facing the district, which included overcrowding in classrooms, gym space and hallways, a continuing and steady increase in enrollment and safety/security concerns.
A year ago this month, a citizen’s planning committee was put together to begin bringing community concerns together and narrowing down several options that had been placed on the table.
These options included smaller projects like building additions to grander ideas like a new high school.
The citizen’s group, along with school leaders and architects, addressed each idea and its unique problems and whittled the prospects to only a few.
The consensus was for the $59 million plan that now lies on the table.
The money would be needed for a long term plan that would allow for the kind of growth state experts are anticipating in Becker County and Detroit Lakes.
The plan includes a long list of district-wide projects, including:
- A new 1,000 seat K-3 elementary school to be located on a 40-acre piece of land one and a half miles north on Richwood and Tower Road.
- Grades 4 and 5 would be housed in the Roosevelt building, which would see upgrades like additional gymnasium space and air-conditioning in all classrooms.
- Grades 6 through 8 would be in the Middle School, with upgrades to include better security measures at its entrances and upgrades to deteriorating exterior walls, interior spaces and improved lighting and heating systems.
- The parking lot/drop off/pick up area of the Middle School/Roosevelt complex would be re-vamped and improved for safety.
- Grades 9 through 12 would go to the High School, which would also see additional gymnasium space, the remodeling of some classrooms, an expansion to the commons area and new security measures added.
- The District Administration building and the Lincoln Education Center would be closed and relocated to the Rossman Elementary building, which is also where the Boys and Girls Club would be located.
Froke also touched on the tax impact to voters, which is estimated to be at $132 a year for a property assessed at $100,000.
Members of the audience questioned Froke, school board members, and architects working on the project on issues like traffic patterns in and around Richwood Road, travel time for busses, how much debt the district currently has, and why the Richwood location was chosen over other possibilities for a new school.
School board members presented a detailed map of dozens of proposed locations that were highlighted, along with the reason why they would not work.
School board member Dr. Tom Seaworth told the crowd the board had been good stewards of their tax dollars in the past, as Detroit Lakes’ operating levy is currently at $457 per pupil, compared to the state’s average of just short of $1,000 per pupil.
In terms of debt, board members pointed out that the district is only three years from being debt-free on all of its buildings, which is a situation that’s hard to find in school districts.
“That debt, about $4 million, would just be wrapped into the $59 million,” explained Froke.
Although it was far from a full room, many audience members seemed to feel like they were walking away from the meeting with a clearer picture of the project.
“I was doubtful when I first came here,” said Kathy Nelson, who lives out by Lake Melissa. “I had a lot of questions I wanted answered, but now I understand why they want to do what they want to do.”
Nelson says although she feels “a lot better” about the idea, she still doesn’t totally agree with the proposed location of the new school, or the large size of it.
“I still wish they could find something closer into town,” she said, “I’d like to see it structured differently, like maybe use the fairgrounds and use the other buildings differently — I don’t know.”
“I can tell they did their homework and put a lot of time and effort into getting it right,” said one audience member. “But I guess I can’t see any reason not to support it; I’ve seen the overcrowding, we’re continuing to grow — I think this is a good thing.”
Justin and Kerry Sweirs of Detroit Lakes have young children in the district, and say they wanted to get more information on the referendum, as they both remain undecided on how to vote.
“We do have to do something,” said Kerry Sweirs, referring to the overcrowding issue, “I just don’t know what or how much everybody can afford. Good education for our children is important to us, but we’re also living in a one-income household right now, and so we’re just not sure.”
The Sweirs say they plan to come to the next informational meeting in the hopes of hearing more and making their final decision.
Those meetings will be held on Oct. 7 and 28.
For more information on the project and the meetings, log on to the district’s website at www.dlschools.net.