This column will provide a little more backstory on how the concept of a new elementary school originated and also address some of the challenges that the district faces in managing our facilities.
Over the course of my professional career, I have developed a deep appreciation for the value of strategic planning. The following anonymous quote sums it up for me, “Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” When I came to the district, one of my first goals was to work with the school board, staff and community in creating a strategic plan. The process was fairly extensive and involved a lot of people. There were five committees: Curriculum, Student Climate & Culture, Staff Climate & Culture, Portrait of a Graduate and Facilities.
Intentionally, the facilities committee did not begin meeting until the other committees were nearing the end of their work. This was to ensure that facility discussions could focus on alignment with the vision for education in the Fergus Falls Public School District. The committee was made up of teachers, administrators, school board members, parents and members of the community. The district’s facilities are complicated. As you can imagine, many meetings took place. Much of the discussion looked at current and ongoing facility needs, educational adequacy, the placement of kindergarten and the best fit for fifth grade.
As the committee reviewed information, its recommendation to the school board was to move kindergarten to Lincoln School, move fifth grade to Cleveland School and explore the public’s potential support for a new elementary school to replace the aging McKinley School and Adams School. That recommendation set in motion nearly two years of site exploration as detailed in my previous article. The search included discussion and/or updates at school board meetings including work sessions open to the public, public meetings with the Fergus Falls city council, radio updates from time-to-time and also references in the Daily Journal. The culminating feedback event occurred this past fall with a district-wide option for the community to complete a survey. The results of the survey suggested that there was enough local support for the concept to bring it before the voters to decide in mid-May.
That survey provided a lot of really useful feedback. One of the prominent questions or concerns could simply be stated as, “Why don’t you just fix what you have?” We do fix what we have - every day, but as each year passes, that becomes a more daunting (and expensive) proposition.
Because our revenue is insufficient to address all of our annual facility needs, we have to be thoughtful and strategic in prioritizing what we will do and when we will do it.
The Otter Fieldhouse is a perfect example. We were using the space daily for physical education classes for our ALC students and for our School of Choice students. In addition, we used that gym for wrestling matches, gymnastics and as a practice facility and game site for youth basketball. The facility provided what we needed - but it required a fair amount of attention. We replaced the lights, painted the walls, put in new basketball backboards, added a lower section of bleachers, refinished the floor and added new pads to the walls. This was done using district funds and very generous donations from our community. We are really proud of this facility and it has been wonderful to host varsity events in this beautiful old gym once again. We still have some challenges with the facility - namely plumbing which I will characterize as “functional” and I am very thankful for our maintenance staff who worked hard to get it to that state.
The district has aging facilities. I calculated the average age per square foot for our current facilities. It is a weighted average that takes into account the year each building and subsequent additions were built. Based on the history that I had, the average age per square foot of facilities in the district is forty-five years.
I am a few years past forty-five and I can attest that with each passing year I seem to need more and more maintenance. The same is true for our facilities. Our facilities require attention to roofs, plumbing, electrical and tuckpointing. We have a door frame at the entrance to the Otter Field House that is rusting out. Cleveland has a mechanical control system that is so old that it is no longer supported and could really use a nice bathroom for the staff. We had to replace the intercom system in Roosevelt and Kennedy Secondary School this year because the system was antiquated and no longer functioned effectively. The swimming pool needs a new filtration system, the track needs to be resurfaced and we are a couple of years away from needing to address the artificial turf in Otter Stadium. The list goes on.
The last completely new school that was built - that dates back to 1968 when the middle school was constructed. That was fifty-six years ago.
A facility study conducted a couple of years ago by ATS&R illustrates the needs of McKinley and Adams. That report will be the subject of next week’s column.