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?
What guidelines does the Minnesota Department of Education have regarding site size?
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?

Why do we need to make a decision 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 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 the right space to do art projects.
  • 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. Now our special education space is overcrowded and that 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. 
  • Last school year and again this upcoming 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 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 is the next step?

The Elementary Facilities Taskforce, 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 K-5 elementary schools for 750 students each, as well as a 300 student K-5 community school in Cohasset that replaces the 1920 section of the school. 

The School Board will be examining this plan in further detail and hosting listening sessions during the month of July. We still need to hear from you. 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 .

Where would the schools be located?
The EFT made three recommendations for sites for the 750-student schools, one on the west side and two on the east side. 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 sites consisted of land near the Sports Complex or the Hoolihan property located south of 169. The sites are available in greater detail in the EFT presentation.

The School Board will be discussing the sites in greater detail at a workshop on July 10 and allowing the community to share their input prior to making a final decision on August 8.

Can’t we just remodel our existing schools?
Based on the findings of our professionals and the EFT, it could be acceptable to remodel Forest Lake, Murphy, and Southwest schools.  However, because of the site guidelines required by the Minnesota Department of Education, we would not be able to remodel Forest Lake or Murphy because of acreage issues (see below). 

It was determined that because Cohasset has major long-term issues, it would not be feasible to remodel this school. It is possible to save a portion of this school and build a new core.

What guidelines does the Minnesota Department of Education have regarding site size?
The current MDE guidelines specify that new elementary schools need to be located on 10-15 acres + 1 acre for every 100 students. This amount of space is necessary to accommodate the size of the school, green space (playground areas and grounds), safe parking, and safe bus drop-off/pick-up areas, and provide space for future growth. Our current situations are:
  • Cohasset: Currently located on 7 acres and needs to be on 13-18 acres. Three adjacent properties would need to be purchased to achieve this. 
  • Forest Lake: Currently located on 5.7 acres and needs to be on 14-19 acres. 35 adjacent properties would need to be purchased to achieve this.
  • Murphy: Currently located on 5 acres and needs to be on 14-19 acres. Approximately 25 adjacent properties would need to be purchased to achieve this.
  • Southwest: Currently located on 8.5 acres and needs to be on 14-19 acres. Three adjacent properties would need to be purchased to achieve this, plus the acquisition of a public park.
The EFT, the City of Grand Rapids, and the district agree that buying up a significant amount of property surrounding the schools to meet acreage recommendations is not in the best interest of our community, so it was decided that remodeling and expanding Forest Lake and Murphy schools is not an option.

Has the community been involved in the schools planning process so far?
Absolutely. The Elementary Facilities Taskforce is 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.

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 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 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 school. 

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 .