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School district plans reshuffling of programs, facilities to add space

BEMIDJI – The school district here will play “musical chairs” next year as it strives to add more classrooms at the Paul Bunyan Center.

The Paul Bunyan Center, 3300 Gillette Drive NW, opened in fall 2011 initially housing six kindergartenclasses.

But enrollment has continued to increase, particularly in the younger grade levels, and four sections of Horace May kindergarten needs to be added into the Paul Bunyan Center next fall.

“We have to move the kids to a place where it will be supportive and where it will help the teachers deliver the instruction in the most efficient and effective manner,” Superintendent Jim Hess said Wednesday. “That is our kindergarten center at Paul Bunyan.”

In order to add four classrooms, the central administrative offices that now share building space at the Paul Bunyan Center – the superintendent’s office, the business office, human resources, director of special education, and director of curriculum and administrative services – will relocate to the Downtown Education Center, 502 Minnesota Ave. NW, the former First National Bank building in the heart of downtown.

“It’s not about where we’re comfortable that is the key; the key is classroom space for kids,” Hess said. “That’s the bottom line here and that’s what’s driving home this set of decisions and actions. We just have to have more space for our kids to learn.”

To make room for incoming offices, the Downtown Education Center will relocate two of its programs: the Alternative Education Program and Home Based Early Childhood programs.

Those staff members will be moved to 2,700 square feet within the Lakeside Business Center, 505 Bemidji Ave. N.

The program shifts feel a bit like “musical chairs,” said Bemidji School Board Chairman John Pugleasa, but are needed to free up space at the Paul Bunyan Center to add kindergarteners.

The school district approved a one-year lease Monday for the Lakeside center after also renewing for another year a lease with Beltrami County for 8,700 square feet inside the Beltrami County Community Service Center, which houses the Early Childhood Family Education program.

Chris Leinen, director of business services for Bemidji schools, said the single-year lease agreement will allow the district to consider longer-term options.

“We’re renewing for one year with the idea of massaging all these moves into one final solution,” he said. “This year buys us time.”