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Bemidji School Board addresses facilities needs; elementary schools to increase sections

Bemidji - In 2011, the Bemidji School District asked the community to approve a referendum to build a new elementary school. Voters denied that request, but Chairman John Pugleasa said he expects the district to revisit the issue in the future.

Classroom space requirements were discussed Monday by board members and administrators at a Bemidji School Board work session. Gauging the increase in three of the six elementary schools, Director of Human Resources Jordan Hickman said additional sections would be added to Horace May, Lincoln and J.W. Smith schools for the 2013-2014 year.

May would add a grade one; Lincoln would add kindergarten, grade one and grade three sections; and Smith would add a grade three. Also problematical are Central, which is projected to have a 32-student grade three if another section isn’t added, and Northern, which would have a 27-student grade one without adding another section. Solway would go from eight sections in grades one through five to seven sections.

The board members agreed that the elementary schools are the pressure points for space needs.

Some kindergarten classes would continue at the Paul Bunyan Center, with the plan to move four more kindergarten sections to the center in the future. The district offices are also housed in the Paul Bunyan Center, so another site would have to be found when all the kindergarten sections move into the center.

Director of Business Services Chris Leinen said the plan this summer is to update and bring into code the Paul Bunyan Center kitchen, which is operating on a temporary license from the state health department. The kitchen remodel, which is estimated to cost about $150,000, has been contracted with Naylor Heating and Refrigeration. The kitchen currently can serve 150 children daily. When it is remodeled, Leinen said the kitchen should be able to serve 260 children daily.

“Our aim is to continue to relocate kindergartens here,” said Superintendent James Hess. “Bottom line, it would be great if we had a new elementary school. That need hasn’t gone away.”

Leinen said the budget for annual maintenance and repairs to all the district’s buildings is $750,000, but the total capital improvements are estimated to cost more than $1 million. Consequently, some projects will have to be deferred, he said. He said the principle is to take care of the buildings already in use before expanding into new sites.

Hess also noted the space needs for early childhood education. The district leases classrooms for these programs from Beltrami County and Bemidji State University.

Hess said the district is considering the possibility of leasing space for early childhood education in the Simonson Center when TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School moves into the former Naylor building on Paul Bunyan Drive. However, he said, he doesn’t think these changes will be ready in time for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

“I sense that next fall is going to look a lot like last fall in District 31,” Hess said.

Story written special for the Pioneer by Molly Miron.

NOTE: This story was updated to reflect an error originally published regarding the business hired for the Paul Bunyan Center kitchen remodel project.

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