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DL opts for new K-3 grade school

The Detroit Lakes School board and administration came to a consensus tonight at the regular school board meeting -- that a new elementary school is the way to go in order to address the district's increasingly problematic space issues.

Board members, Superintendent Doug Froke and Education Director Lowell Nicklaus all agreed that out of the several options laid out on the table for consideration, the best one is to build a new K-3 elementary school on a new location somewhere either within or just outside of the city limits.

The group chose this option after being handed the last two options a community steering committee of roughly 35 chose after researching and discussing several different scenarios.

The other idea left on the table by the steering committee was to build a new middle school, but money, logistics, restrictions and long-term concerns all played a part in the board's decision to back a new elementary school instead.

Under this plan, the new 1,000 seat elementary school would house all Detroit Lakes students in grades Kindergarten through third grade, although at this point there is no clear-cut choice on a location.

Although steering committee members expressed a desire to build somewhere on the south side of the city, property could prove to be tough to acquire there, as the school would require at least 25 acres of land, plus additional land for any practice fields.

The new building, along with a gym expansion at the high school, six new classrooms and mechanical upgrades, would cost somewhere around $45.3 million, not including land for the new building.

(The other option of building a new middle school would have cost nearly $10 million more than that for just the building, plus an additional cost for the extra 8 acres of land a middle school would require.)

With the idea of a new elementary school, the plan has all fourth- and fifth-graders at the current Roosevelt building (originally built for only 450 students) and the middle school going back to just sixth through eighth grades.

The Lincoln Education Center and the District Building would then be closed up and operations moved into Rossman.

Some of the benefits of this plan would be that it allows for future growth, it will alleviate some of the traffic congestion at the Roosevelt-Middle School site (because of 300 fewer students there) and school operations would go uninterrupted during construction.

It also groups all Detroit Lakes students together with their own grades - a desire expressed by the community steering committee.

Now, administrators and staff will be working to hammer out the details of what their needs are for each school as the middle school and high school would also see some upgrades, including a gym expansion at the high school.

School Board Chairman Tom Seaworth told the board the one thing that haunts him is that when the high school gym was built, it was somehow build under regulation and this time things need to be done right.

"We get one shot at this," said Seaworth. "So we need to make sure that when we do this, we have all of our needs met going into it -- maybe not all of our wants, but our needs, because right now we have no restrictions because nothing has been built."

Seaworth went on to not only stress the importance of planning for adequate gymnasium space, but also a real wrestling room and enough space for art and music programs, while ensuring there is a proper set up for a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club.

Although there was talk of possibly trying to get a referendum to the voters by February, the board instead opted to not push it through Tuesday night, but to instead take the chosen plan back to the steering committee for a final stamp of approval from them before moving forward.

If they get that, the project would be set to go on the April ballot. The proposal is very roughly estimated to cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $238 a year with a 20-year bond, with variables expected to throw that number around some.

In the meantime, school board members, school administration and other key community leaders will be busy gathering data and hammering out details for this plan before the next steering committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at M State in Detroit Lakes.