What is happening with ISD 318 school planning?
When is the vote on this plan?
Why do we need to make a decision now?
Here’s a closer look at our space needs.
What is the next step?
Where would the schools be located?
Can’t we just remodel our existing schools?
Has the community been involved in the schools planning process so far?
I don’t have kids. Why should I care about this?
What does Bigfork have to gain or lose in this?
If overcrowding is an issue, why not just close or limit open enrollment?
What is the benefit to ISD 318 of accepting open enrollment students?
Why did you demolish Riverview School if there is so much elementary overcrowding?
How can I find out more and share my thoughts?

What is happening with ISD 318 school planning?

The School Board will ask voters to decide whether to renovate and expand Cohasset Elementary and build two new neighborhood schools to replace the three existing Grand Rapids elementary schools.

When is the vote on this plan?

February 13, 2018

Why do we need to make a decision now?

Our severe elementary school space shortage is a serious challenge that is impacting how well kids learn in our schools.  This has implications not only for their academic achievement, but the future of our community and our ability to attract new residents, a strong workforce and future employers. 

Here’s a closer look at our space needs:
We have a growing need for elementary space 
  • Elementary enrollment increased 26% in the past decade.
  • Moving from half-day to all-day Kindergarten doubled the need for Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Growing enrollment in early childhood education has dramatically impacted space needs in elementary schools.
  • The district has leased 14 portable classrooms to accommodate students and teachers; this means that nearly 20% of elementary instruction space is in temporary and inefficient portables parked outside the schools, taking up playground and parking space.
  • Growing enrollment has resulted in the closure of Kindergarten enrollment in Southwest and Murphy schools this year and forced the district to move some students to other schools in past years.
The four elementary buildings in Grand Rapids and Cohasset are not designed for the way kids learn and teachers teach today
  • Classrooms are too small based on state standards and there is no break-out space in the buildings, so kids use hallways, library aisles and converted closets for group, individualized and specialized education. Not all kids learn at the same pace or in the same way. Teachers know that having space for students to break out into small groups or to engage in individualized learning sessions helps all students reach their full potential.
  • Reading and math specialists don’t have adequate space to provide the one-on-one tutoring dozens of kids need to succeed in school and be ready for their future. 
  • No science lab space means kids aren't learning all they can in these classes, which are more important than ever in preparing kids for tomorrow's world and workforce. Students who learn science hands-on, including through lab experiments, understand concepts more deeply and score better on science tests, according to recent national studies.
  • No dedicated art space means students' engagement with art is limited not only because there isn't the right space to make art, there isn't adequate space to store art scupplies. A growing body of research shows that art is an important part of a child’s intellectual and emotional growth, helping to expand creative, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. 
  • Special education space is crowded and that is another barrier for kids who need extra help to succeed. Better screening and the growing realization that kids who struggle cannot simply be left behind has resulted in a larger number of students participating in special education classes. 
Pushing fifth-graders to the middle school because of elementary school crowding is causing a space crunch at RJEMS
  • RJEMS was carefully planned and built to house grades 6 through 8, but it now houses 5th graders too. In 2007, an additional wing was constructed at the middle school for 5th graders, and in 2014, six classrooms were added to accommodate student growth.
  • Still, we are facing serious space shortages at RJEMS, with enrollment increases at the 5th through 8th eighth grade levels in the coming years. 
  • Last school year and again this school year, class schedules needed to be shifted at RJEMS and many middle school teachers no longer have their own rooms because of the space shortages in the building. This can create more challenges for teachers to efficiently and effectively prepare for classroom instruction.
Our buildings are old
  • Our oldest building’s core is 95 years old, the youngest is 59. 
  • Aging buildings have growing maintenance costs making it expensive to preserve things the way they are without making real improvements and without fixing the space problems. 
  • The Minnesota Department of Education’s guide for planning school construction projects states that if the cost of remodeling is  60% or more of the cost of building new, a school district should build new. 
Building new now makes the best economic sense
  • Because remodeling to meet all needs will cost more than 60% of building new and that means the school district should build new, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (see above). 
  • Interest rates are at near-historic lows. 
  • Construction costs remain favorable.
  • Costs will likely increase every year we wait.

What is the next step?

The Elementary Facilities Taskforce (EFT), made up of citizen volunteers like you, has submitted a recommendation to the School Board. The taskforce has recommended that the district plan on building two new neighborhood K-5 elementary schools for 750 students each, as well as a 300 student K-5 community school in Cohasset that replaces the 1922 section of the school. The EFT plan is less expensive than the 2015 plan.

The School Board continues to look for ways to reduce costs to our taxpayers. We still need to hear from you. Do you have ideas on how to improve the plan? Share your thoughts by calling 218-327-5723 or emailing .

Where would the schools be located?
The EFT made two recommendations for sites for the new neighborhood schools, one on the west side and one on the east side of Grand Rapids, both with walking access. The site located on the west side is located just to the west of Grand Itasca on land currently owned by the City of Grand Rapids. The east site consists of land near the Sports Complex. The sites are available in greater detail in the EFT presentation.

Can’t we just remodel our existing schools?
Based on the findings of the EFT, which included community members with facility expertise, it was determined that it is not feasible to remodel and expand at Forest Lake or Murphy schools because in order to meet state guidelines for the size of school land, dozens of surrounding properties would need to be purchased and removed. Expansion at Southwest was not possible because it would require the removal of park land and a road closure. 
It was determined that saving a portion of Cohasset and replacing the oldest part of the building with a new core is feasible. 


Has the community been involved in the schools planning process so far?
Absolutely. The EFT was made up of over 200 volunteers who put in over 2,000 hours of time into researching the best solution for our schools and our community.

During the past several years, the School Board also held listening sessions, conducted surveys and led community meetings to learn more about education concerns. Parents and students, teachers and staff, and many other area residents have made suggestions to improve our school facilities. Local residents will decide the future of our schools and how they meet the needs of today’s young people and coming generations of students.

I don’t have kids. Why should I care about this?
Good school facilities are important to current local residents who own a business or work at area companies, as well as to young families considering a move to our community. Strong schools help support a strong and vibrant community. Local community and business leaders were active on the EFT and task force members considered it a critical part of their mission to develop recommendations that address school needs and are fair to taxpayers.

What does Bigfork have to gain or lose in this?
More efficient elementary schools in Cohasset and Grand Rapids will free up operating budget to go to all classrooms in the district – money that is currently going to repairs at those four old elementary buildings.

Bigfork has a relatively new school built in 1988 with a new high school addition built in 1998 that serves early childhood through high school students. This new building is paid for by all taxpayers in the ISD 318 school district.

If overcrowding is an issue, why not just close or limit open enrollment?
First, our enrollment growth is in local students not from those outside the district. In addition, by state law, we must accept some open enrollment students.

What is the benefit to ISD 318 of accepting open enrollment students?
When open enrollment students come to our district, the education dollars attached to those students follow them. If we were to limit open enrollment, we would lose the education dollars attached to those potential open enrollees. We also could not stop students in our district from enrolling in other school districts and this could result in a lower amount of state education funding to ISD 318.

Why did you demolish Riverview School if there is so much elementary overcrowding?
Riverview was built in 1938 and was closed in 20058 because it wasn’t accessible to students and others who couldn’t climb four flights of stairs. In addition, the school building would have needed extensive maintenance, including asbestos removal, in order to keep using it as an elementary school. Even if it was available today, it would not be an appropriate building for students. 

How can I find out more and share my thoughts?
Contact the school district office via this form, or by calling 218-327-5723 or emailing .