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No more bandaids: DL school board seeks a permanent fix for schools

Detroit Lakes schools are finally working towards a much needed facelift, thanks to the school board’s decision to hire Zerr Berg Architects earlier this year.

Project Manager Brian Berg introduced the first rough draft displayed graphics of the exact areas they hope to update at Wednesday’s community engagement meeting on June 20.

An estimate of $50 million was given for the pending school building bond referendum. It will be on the general election ballot this November if the school board decides to move forward, a decision they need to make by the end of August.

Building updates are planned for Roosevelt Elementary, Rossman Elementary, Detroit Lakes Middle School and High School.

Funds have been allocated according to needs at the schools: $27.4 million of the total amount will go to the High School, $8.6 million to Roosevelt, $8 million to Rossman and $5.5 million to the Middle School.

About 15 people attended the meeting including one school board member, parents, teachers, and residents. Aside from one, most attendees were in agreement that Detroit Lakes schools are falling far behind others in the region and expressed concern about voter turnout for the off-year general election.

Community engagement specialists and teachers at the meeting advocated for the referendum, and expressed that it could help reduce teacher turnover rates and enrollment drops in recent years.

However, the school board will continue getting feedback through July to see if adjustments can be made to better accommodate the community’s wants for the project considering its great proportion.

Berg said the project is “pretty conservative.” They were able to get the total cost down quite a bit from where it was originally, sacrificing changes that are not absolutely necessary.

Zerr Berg focuses on four key success factors which are to accommodate for future growth, enhance security, and improve the environment and efficiency at the schools.

Their team is targeting specific areas in the schools that are currently problematic. For example, at Rossman the dining room is in between the gym and the music room causing a lot of congestion.

“The high school commons area is an extremely constricted area for how much activity goes on there,” Berg said.

They plan to expand the high school gym, adding seating, more accessible restrooms and varsity locker rooms.

Many of the changes will reduce costs for the schools longterm, like eliminating operable windows and improving ventilation and heating and cooling systems. “It’s far more efficient this way,” Berg said.

“We definitely aren’t going to get four new buildings, so we are reinvesting in the existing buildings,” he added.

Tensions grew at the meeting when a man stood up and said, “50 million is not going to pass,” adding that, “if you bring that forward it’s going to fail.”

The remaining meeting attendees then brainstormed ways to inform the community about the referendum and discussed hopes to receive additional feedback.

The next community engagement meetings will be held Wednesday, June 27 at 11 a.m. in the Middle School Media Center and another later that evening at 6:30 p.m. in the High School Media Center. All are welcome to attend.