What is happening with ISD 318 school planning?
When is the vote?
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?
The Sports Complex site was seen as a back-up site in the 2015 referendum. Why is it the primary site today?
Can’t we just remodel our existing schools?
If Southwest Elementary isn’t good enough for elementary kids, how can it be adapted for Early Childhood Education?
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?
April 10, 2017

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 supplies. 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.

The Sports Complex site was seen as a back-up site in the 2015 referendum. Why is it the primary site today?
The land that the Sports Complex sits on was purchased with a grant from the DNR. This grant states that the land must remain parkland forever or that land must be purchased to replace it. In 2015, the Hoolihan property was also available for purchase, had room for expansion, and there was a willing seller. The Hoolihan property allowed for the creation of a controlled intersection to enter the school, which made this a more attractive location in 2015. However, some factors have changed since then.

In 2017, when the EFT examined available land within Grand Rapids, they evaluated both the Sports Complex property and the Hoolihan land. The EFT proposed a different location for the school within the Sports Complex property than that examined in 2015. This new location allows for a better traffic approach and it allows for shared green space with RJE Middle School. In addition, the EFT approached the City of Grand Rapids with an offer of a land exchange in which the School District would receive the  Sports Complex site in exchange for the City receiving the old Riverview site. The City has expressed willingness to make this land swap. These two factors significantly reduced the cost of the Sports Complex land making it the EFT’s recommended site.

The West Site located adjacent to the hospital is the same site that was presented in the 2015 referendum.


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. 

If Southwest Elementary isn’t good enough for elementary kids, how can it be adapted for Early Childhood Education?
It’s not about Southwest Elementary not being good enough for elementary kids - it’s about Southwest not having enough of the right space and not having enough property to expand on the current site to meet student needs.

In May, members of the EFT toured and examined each elementary school in great detail, utilizing checklists provided by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). During this process, they found that Southwest Elementary was suitable for renovation and remodeling, but was limited in expansion due to the site size. MDE guidelines require that districts adhere to the following site calculation for new or remodeled schools - 10-15 acres plus one additional acre per 100 students. This means that as a K-4 school with 365 students, Southwest should be on a 16.2 acre site, not the 8.5 acre site it it is on.

However, Early Childhood Education classes are much smaller than K-4 classes. The number of students in each classroom is much smaller. There would only be about 250 early childhood students in the building on an average day, fitting well within MDE guidelines. THE EFT recommended that Southwest be retained because it is suitable for renovating and will move leased classrooms into a district-owned building, making early childhood class instruction and support more efficient. The School Board would update and renovate the classrooms for early childhood classes with funding not included in the 2018 referendum. If the 2018 referendum passes, the School Board will pursue state, foundation and other funding sources first to see what renovation costs could be covered without going to taxpayers.


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 2005 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 .