Frequently Asked Questions about Facility Planning and the ISD 318 Referendum
 
What is the decision our community is asked to make?
Why do we need to answer these questions now?
What are our options for addressing part or all of our problems?
What is the next step?
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?
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 the decision our community is asked to make?

We have two big questions facing us as a community: 
  • How do get the necessary space for students and teachers in our schools? 
  • How do we pay for the necessary solution?
The way we answer these questions will have a profound impact on our community now and for generations to come.

Why do we need to answer these questions now?

Our severe space shortage is a serious challenge that is impacting how well kids learn in our community.  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 four elementary Buildings are not designed for the way kids learn and teachers teach today
  • Classrooms are too small and there is no break-out space in the buildings, so kids use hallways, library aisles and converted closets for small group or individualized work. 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 don’t get all they can out of these classes. Students who learn science hands-on 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 by space constraints. 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. Creating art in turns create storage needs for art supplies as well as space needs to have the right place to do art projects.
  • Special education space is crowded and that is another barrier kids who need extra help to succeed. Better screening and growing realization that kids who struggle cannot simply be left behind has resulted in a growing number of students participating in special education classes. Now our special education space is over-crowded and has resulted in the use of portable classrooms at Southwest Elementary School. 
We need to bring fifth-graders back to elementary school buildings where they belong
  • 5th graders are very different developmentally from 8th graders and learn best in a setting with elementary – not middle school – students.
  • RJEMS was carefully planned and built to house grades 6 through 8, but 5th graders have been forced up to the middle school to relieve crowding in the elementary buildings
  • Now we are facing serious space shortages at RJEMS, with enrollment increases at the 5th through 8th eighth grade levels in the coming years
  • Already this fall, class schedules needed to be shifted at RJEMS and many middle school teachers no longer have their own rooms because of the space challenges in the building. This can create more challenges for teachers to efficiently and effectively prepare for classroom instruction.
Our elementary buildings are beyond their useful life
  • Our oldest building’s core is 94 years old, the youngest is 58. 
  • Aging buildings have growing maintenance costs just to preserves things the way they are without making real improvements and without fixing the space problems
  • Remodeling isn’t a good option because it is challenging from an engineering perspective to add on to very old buildings. In addition, the Minnesota Departments 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
  • Building new now will likely result in lower tax burden than building in future years
What are our options for addressing part or all of our problems?
  • There are several options, but doing nothing is not an option. 
  • Our current patch and repair approach keeps schools operational, but does not solve the space problems at the four elementary schools.  
  • Adding on at current sites does not make good economic sense because the core buildings are too old and there’s not enough land to expand at current sites while meeting state space standards without removing some surrounding homes.
  • Portable classrooms installed on school grounds to provide needed space are a temporary fix: they cost a lot to maintain, take up valuable outdoor space, are expensive to heat and do not create an environment conducive to productive learning and working because of and poor soundproofing temperature control.
  • The district could enact a special levy without voter approval, but our current limit for such a levy is $2.2 million annually, which is not enough to address space issues at our elementary buildings.
  • The district could go to voters with another bond referendum to fund new construction or major renovation for Grand Rapids and Cohasset elementary schools – this is the only option which solves all the space problems facing today’s – and tomorrows’ – students and teachers.   
What is the next step?
We must hear what the community wants for the future of our schools. We really need residents to come forward with what they believe are essential qualities of our elementary schools, so we can talk about how we get there. We want to know: when you envision the future of our schools – what do you see? Share your thoughts via this form, or by calling 218-327-5723 or emailing facilityplan@isd318.org.

Has the community been involved in the schools planning process so far?

Absolutely. During the past several years, the School Board 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 school 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.

What does Bigfork have to gain or lose in this?

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. This new building is paid for by all taxpayers in the ISD 318 district. 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.

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, and by state law, we must accept some open enrollment students. In addition, if were 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 it wasn’t accessible to students and others who couldn’t climb four flights of stairs. In addition to renovations to make it accessible, the school building would have needed extensive maintenance, including asbestos removal, in order to keep using it as an elementary. 

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 facilityplan@isd318.org.