Board, administration hashing out plans for a new Perham High School building

The Perham-Dent School Board and administration met last week for their second work session to discuss the district's future building projects. Discussion leading up to and at the Dec. 2 meeting has been based on an apparent consensus to move for...

The Perham-Dent School Board and administration met last week for their second work session to discuss the district’s future building projects.

Discussion leading up to and at the Dec. 2 meeting has been based on an apparent consensus to move forward with planning for and building a new high school in Perham, along with other construction such as an expansion at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.

Projects were suggested in an October report by a community task force, following several meetings and much research. The school board has not yet voted or taken official action on any suggestion.

Preparations are being made for the possibility of a school bond referendum election in the spring or early summer. The referendum would determine public interest in funding a new high school. Depending on the targeted election date, official notice of the district’s plans could be due as early as February.

Site alternatives


Several members of the administration brought up a question they said they had been asked by others: Would it be possible to put a new high school on the site of the current football field and move the field to near the middle school, so the Perham Area Community Center could still be used?

Previous discussion had mostly centered on building a new facility on about 24 acres of land owned by the district near Coney Street and Prairie Wind Middles School.

“I think… the discussion on that whole issue goes back to whether we gain more value in having the connection directly to the PACC, or having our buildings connected together for sharing operational resources long-term,” said board member Jim Rieber. “That’s really the trade-off you look at by moving. What’s the long-term better value for the district as a whole?”

“The other thing, too, is if you relocate the football field, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars are you adding to the (project) cost,” added board member Myron Roe. “It’s pretty spendy to do that.”

Activities Director Erin Anderson and incoming board member Arnie Thompson each pointed out that the track, tennis courts and other additional fields and facilities would also need to be moved or replaced in such a scenario.

Board member Vince Pankonin said, 10 years ago, when he was mayor, the city got an estimate for the cost of a new baseball field, complete with a “meager grandstand, compared to what we have” and lighting. At that time, said Pankonin, it would have cost $600,000 for the one field.

Space and costs

Pat Overom, of ICS Consulting Inc., explained in more detail some of the math and planning used in refining a high school construction plan cost estimate. He said the cost of construction for such projects is “all over the place” and has been “a moving target for the last year and a half or so.”


Perham-Dent’s tentative plan assumes a new 600-seat auditorium and gymnasium would be part of the project, along with shop areas, core space for a student body of 650 and classrooms for around 525 students.

The plan is based on an assumed cost of $220 per square foot, if work began in a year, with a preliminary 154,488-square-foot space.

All of that adds up to almost $34 million. When additional design, testing and other expenses for the project are considered, the price could be around $40.5 million.

“It’s not a Cadillac by any means, and it’s not a Yugo,” Overom said of the plan outline. “A very efficient, practical and functional, durable facility is what’s being represented.”

Board member Sue Huebsch wondered whether the plan might be too big, based on current and projected enrollment, and if the square footage could be reduced.

In order to better judge how much space will be needed, the board asked Overom to assume spaces such as choir and band rooms would be shared to maximize use and efficiency and reduce redundancy.

Another possible way to reduce high school space would be to update the teacher-classroom relationship, moving to a college-like setup, where some teachers would have an office workspace and not their own classroom. This setup could reduce the number of classrooms needed and increase their utilization.

Capital projects impact


The group also discussed how work covered by the current capital projects referendum could be affected by new construction in the near future.

Some projects, such as work on roofs, heating and cooling systems and more, are mentioned on both lists. The district might opt to eventually under-collect on the capital referendum, or the construction plan could be altered to reflect work that has been or will soon be done. A definite answer about what the district could do was not determined.

The school board will meet again for its regular meeting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 17, in the high school student union. The annual Truth in Taxation hearing will begin at 6 p.m.

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