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A steering committee made up of community members gathered Wednesday night to hear the options for addressing the schools' space issues. Photo by Paula Quam

Panel looks at options for DL schools

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Does Detroit Lakes need a new school? Should it combine schools? How should the school district handle the space crunch?

A few dozen community members gathered at M State Wednesday night to begin sifting through the options of some very big ideas coming to the Detroit Lakes School system.

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School and community leaders, some parents and local organization representatives were on hand for the first steering committee meeting developed to help address the space issue in the district.

Superintendent Doug Froke first set the stage with his historically based projections for increased enrollment, which would put Detroit Lakes schools even further over capacity.

According to Froke, the trend in growing enrollment started in the 2006-07 school year.

"We opened the doors to 200 kindergarteners that year, and the board was a little giddy because we were used to more like 150 or 160," said Froke, adding that those enrollment numbers have been continually increasing since then.

To accommodate more students over the years, different kinds of rooms from computer labs to storage rooms have been converted into classrooms.

Roosevelt fifth-graders moved into the Middle School, but now not only is Roosevelt still at full capacity, but so is the Middle School, according to representatives with ATS&R, the architectural firm hired to help figure out the next move.

They also pointed out that Rossman Elementary is over its capacity, while the high school is adequate -- for now.

Utilization rates, which essentially measure how efficiently a school building is being used, are about average at the high school; however, when those big elementary grades get older, the high school will also likely be inadequate, according to experts.

School board members and administration are not only planning to take care of the today's overcrowding problem, but they are determined to "do it right" so that they are not forced to go to the voters again five or 10 years down the road.

Now, the steering committee of community members is helping to sift through the options that will best suit the school district and taxpayers who will ultimately have to approve the move.

Dan Moll, principal member of ATS&R, presented committee members with information and valuable statistics during the decision-making process, including a few points:

• It's not just about having some kind of space to stick students in, but having the right kind of space to enhance their education.

• It's not always as simple as shuffling kids from one school to the next. Elementary students need larger classrooms, while middle school and high school students need specialized rooms for things like industrial arts, sciences and arts.

• Oftentimes partnerships within the community can be formed in a process like this, whether it be melding more with the Boys and Girls Club (a desire of both club and school leaders) or possibly buying out city, state or even private and commercial land.

Although several of the architects' options have been taken off the table and deemed "short term solutions," they are now hoping community members will take the remaining options and begin narrowing them down even further, or possibly coming up with other ideas to enhance them. Maybe bits and pieces of them could be taken and used -- nothing is set in stone, the architects say.

Currently, the six main ideas include:

• Building a new K-5 elementary school for 600 students on the Roosevelt site. The Rossman building would then be used to house Pre-K, the ALC, the district office and community ed. Lincoln and the district office could then be eliminated.

• Building an elementary addition (to serve 700 students) onto the other side of the middle school that would mirror Roosevelt. The same plan for Rossman, the ALC, district office and community ed would go into effect here as well.

• Building a new middle school addition onto the high school (to serve nearly 700 students) while bringing all elementary students over to the Roosevelt-middle school buildings. (Younger grades would likely be in Roosevelt, older ones in the Middle School). Same plan for the Rossman building as the other options.

• Building a new high school on a new site to house 1,000 students grade 9-12. The current high school would then be revamped to serve the middle school students, while all elementary students go to the Roosevelt-current middle school buildings. Again, same plan for Rossman and other facilities.

• Building a new high school on a nearby site. The new facility for 1,000 would be built just north or west of the existing site. (The rest of this plan is the same as the previous option.)

• Building a new high school on the existing site, likely where the practice fields are now. (Again, the rest of the plan is the same as the others.)

Every option comes with different price tags, as well as different down-sides. Traffic congestion, land acquisition and money are all important factors committee members are now contemplating as their job from here is to solicit feed back from other community members.

Another steering committee meeting is set for September 19 at 6:30 p.m. at M State during which time feedback will be shared and more "narrowing down" may be done.

this is a good problem," Froke told the crowd. "This is going to be a lot of fun."

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