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District taking 'conservative' approach to addressing facility needs, Project architect finds community interest in process 'encouraging'

Architect Brian Berg (shown pointing at screen) says he has been "encouraged" by the level of community engagement in the meetings he has held with the public, school district staff and students regarding plans for addressing the district's facilities needs. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

Though a new school building to address the district's space needs has not been completely ruled out, three failed bond referendums have prompted the Detroit Lakes School Board to take a "much more conservative" approach this time around, according to the architect hired by the district to lead them through the design process.

"The board is trying to address these problems in ways that aren't a huge burden to taxpayers," said Brian Berg of Zerr Berg Architects, during the first of two public input meetings held last Wednesday to discuss the district's facilities needs.

Berg also noted during the course of those meetings that a new high school would probably cost in the neighborhood of $40-$50 million to build — "and it would be hard to envision that happening if the district is not willing to support a bond of $75 million," he added. "...It's great to dream about a new school, but at some point you have to address what the community will support."

Between 25-30 people were present at each of the meetings, one of which was held at Ecumen during the afternoon, and the second, held later that evening, took place in the Roosevelt Elementary commons.

Though many of the people present for those meetings indicated that they either currently had children attending school in the district, or their children had attended school there in the past, at least one resident, Beth Pridday, pointed out that there were those without children in the district, past or present — and some without any children at all — who were interested in being a part of the process as well.

"I'm worried about the people who will vote against this, period — no matter what the proposal is," added longtime local resident Dick Hecock.

"There will always be some people that will vote no, regardless," Berg responded, noting that he felt it would be a better idea to focus on "those who are the 'fence riders'" — i.e., people who might be persuaded to vote in favor of a bond issue if they were presented with a project that made sense to them.

Berg also noted that while there were significant space issues at all four of the district's current K-12 facilities, and the buildings themselves were "in various stages of functionality," there were also opportunities for addressing those issues at each of the four sites — and he's pleased by the input that he's received thus far, from community residents, staff, teachers, administrators, and students.

"I'm really encouraged by what we're seeing," he said. "The level of engagement by this community, the level of interest in what we're doing... it seems like the people here are really 'plugged in' to this process."

Another community engagement meeting to discuss proposed school facility improvements and a potential bond referendum this fall will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 26 at the Callaway Event Center. This meeting is open to the public.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454