School construction on track

After more than two years in a temporary building, students at Erik Ramstad Middle School will be able to enjoy a state-of-the-art school come November.

“For a period of time, this will be the nicest middle school in the state,” said Supt. Mark Vollmer as he showed off the middle school that is under construction along 36th Avenue and Eighth Street Northwest. When it is completed, the middle school will be 130,000 square feet and hold 720 students. The old Ramstad was built to hold 550 students.

Vollmer said other school districts are planning to build new schools because of the growth in the state, so Ramstad’s status may eventually be toppled. Still, it will be a very nice school. “It’s going to be fabulous,” he said.

Ever since their old school was destroyed in the flood of 2011, Ramstad students and teachers have been housed at the Minot Municipal Auditorium. Classes will start again in August in the auditorium. Poor weather this winter and spring delayed construction, so school board members decided to postpone the move to Ramstad to the Thanksgiving break. Vollmer said building construction is still on schedule for a late November move-in date.

When students do arrive at their new school, they will find a building that looks considerably different than their 1960s era middle school.

In the one-story portion of the building will be special needs and technical education classrooms, a cafeteria area, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and weight room. The academic wing of the building will be separate stories, with one floor for the sixth-graders, one floor for the seventh-graders and one floor for the eighth-graders. Vollmer said there will be a great deal of open space and many windows that let in light. That will allow for better supervision of students by teachers and will also allow more space for students to work on group projects.

That’s a change from when Magic City Campus, the last new school in the district, was built in the early 1970s. At the time, energy conservation was considered so important that some classrooms didn’t have windows, said Vollmer.

Vollmer said the the boys and girls locker rooms will also be located close to the athletic fields so students won’t have to traipse through the school in dirty, sweaty clothing to reach the showers.

School additions at Lewis and Clark and Longfellow Elementaries, as well as the renovation of the flood-damaged Longfellow, are well under way and students will start classes in those buildings in late August. Each will include more classroom and office space to accommodate the growth in the district.

Vollmer said the renovation of Longfellow has preserved many of the old, Art Deco elements while allowing for a more modern feel. The Pledge of Allegiance in Art Deco lettering will remain. Vollmer said people often ask why the Pledge doesn’t contain the words “under God.” The school was built before the Pledge was changed to include that phrase, he said. A new addition to the wall will be a historical display with information about the history of the Pledge and a wall decoration with the newer version of the Pledge that will hang beside the old.

Kindergarten classrooms in the old school had fireplaces when the school was built; those remain, but the district will install electric lighting. The Lewis and Clark addition, like Longfellow, includes lockers for upper elementary students that will replace the old hooks. Each of the additions will include more classroom space.

Like students at Ramstad, students at Longfellow had attended classes in portable classrooms. Vollmer said those will be moved or removed before school starts. The fate of a temporary multipurpose facility used as a gymnasium and a kitchen is still up in the air and awaits the results of talks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Vollmer said FEMA has offered to sell the building to the district for $1.2 million. However, it would only cost FEMA $400,000 to tear it down. Vollmer said the district has made a counteroffer of $400,000 for the building. If it remains standing, the district could put the building to some use, perhaps as a community center, he said. Likewise, no decision has been made as yet what will happen to the land where the old Ramstad was located.

The district held a series of public forums this spring to provide information on demographic trends in the district and get feedback about proposals for new school construction. Vollmer said the demographers expect to see 1,000 more students enrolled in the district in the next five years and the trend will likely continue. This year’s crop of kindergarten through second-graders will exceed the capacity of the existing middle schools in another five years, he said.

During the third public forum held this spring, consultant DLR group laid out six possible options that would help address the explosive growth that is expected to continue in the district. Most would call for voters to approve a bond issue in late fall.

The first, and most expensive, proposal would cost a combined $145.5 million. It would pay for construction of two new K-5 elementary schools, both with the capacity for 600 students; converting Minot High School-Central Campus into a fourth middle school, building a second high school and renovating Magic City Campus and having two 9-12 high schools, both with the capacity for 1,400 students. The consultant estimated that this would cost the owner of a $200,000 home in the district an additional $535 in property taxes each year for 20 years and would raise the mill levy by 59.64 mills.

The second option would cost $125.5 million. Again, it would call for construction of two new elementary schools and converting Central Campus into a fourth middle school and having two new 9-12 high schools and construction of a new high school, but it would leave out renovating Magic City Campus to accommodate more students. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $462 per year and raise the mill levy by 51.5 mills.

The third option would cost $42 million. It would involve just building two new elementary schools and making no changes at the middle school or high school levels. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $155 per year and raise the mill levy by 17.28 mills.

The fourth option would cost $33 million. It would involve construction of one new elementary school, utilizing portable classrooms at the current elementaries, and building additions as needed at existing elementaries. Nothing would be done to the middle school or high schools. It would raise the tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home by $122 per year and increase the mill levy by 13.6 mills.

The fifth option would simply address “deferred maintenance” at existing schools, without building any new schools or additions or doing anything to address the growth in the district. It would cost a combined $63.5 million. It would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $235 per year in taxes and would raise the mill levy by 26.2 mills.

The last option presented was to do nothing. Vollmer said this past week he has had little feedback since those forums, but plans to talk with some service groups over the next few months. Board members have urged people to ask questions and offer feedback about what they think will make the best option for the district.