EDUCATION: Three sites considered for new school
BEMIDJI--Wary after a new elementary school planned for Middle School Road crumbled in their hands this summer, the Bemidji School Board has returned to the question: Where?...
BEMIDJI-Wary after a new elementary school planned for Middle School Road crumbled in their hands this summer, the Bemidji School Board has returned to the question: Where?
In a special meeting Monday packed with spreadsheets and cost analysis, Superintendent Jim Hess of Bemidji Area Schools presented the board three possible locations for the fourth- and fifth-grade building: the original near Bemidji Middle School, a second near Bemidji High School and a third in Grant Valley Township.
Hess pushed the importance of the site in Grant Valley falling outside the jurisdiction of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, which district officials blame for many of their recent headaches. In Grant Valley, "we'd be partnering with the county," he reminded board members.
"Each of them would make a nice site for our new school," he said. "We need to find the best."
The district, though, is on a budget.
The conversation Monday centered on the cost of permits, road improvements and utilities for the three sites. By that measure, the Grant Valley site was the early favorite.
Preparing to build there, according to a study commissioned by the district, would cost $4.2 million, compared to $5.5 million near the middle school and $5.1 million near the high school.
Concerning street improvements (the rising cost of which drove the board to reconsider the site on Middle School Road), the Grant Valley site requires $400,000 for work on an intersection. The other sites each call for $1.6 million and at least one roundabout-a word board members have come to dread.
"We've put blood, sweat and tears into it," board member Jeff Haack said of the site on Middle School Road. "As a taxpayer, how long do you think a business would stick around if they were told" about the requirements for building in town? That business would head for Grand Rapids, he suggested. It's a luxury the School Board doesn't have.
Building in Grant Valley, Hess said, would likely give the district enough wiggle room in its budget to add a second gymnasium to the school-an impossibility at the other sites. He said the district, because of the budget crunch, has also had to cut back the number of classrooms.
In a rare show of public interest in the district's plans, a Bemidji resident made a short appeal to the board. Bret Cooper of Bemidji Orthodontics asked the board not to build on Middle School Road because construction there could interfere with his practice. And as someone who supported the school during last fall's referendum, Cooper said he wants tax money spent not on street improvements but on projects benefitting students.
Hess and board members said each site has its advantages over the others, but they must make a decision soon, or it could mean another lost year for Gene Dillon Elementary.