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 elementary 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? 
Why do we need more Early Childhood Education space? 
How much will the plan cost?  
What did the School Board do to find cost savings in their plan?
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 the larger Cohasset community get from 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?
Why do we need to address activity facilities?
Why does Bigfork need a new locker room and fitness facility?
Why turf all three fields at GRHS? Why not just one or two?
Isn’t turf a luxury? 
Who uses the fields?
What are the benefits of artificial turf?
Is turf safe?
Long term, does this save the district money or will it be an added expense?
How many programs will this plan impact?
Does this remove the band from practicing in the Reif parking lot?
Can the community have access to the new fields?
How long do turf fields last?
How much does it cost to replace a turf field?
How will the field replacement be paid for?
How can I find out more and share my thoughts?

What is happening with ISD 318 school planning?

The School Board is asking voters to decide whether to move ahead with school and activity facilities improvements throughout the district. These improvements will be presented to voters as two ballot questions:
1. Build two new neighborhood schools to replace the three existing Grand Rapids elementary schools and renovate and expand Cohasset Elementary school, including the addition of in-demand community space.
2. Improve weight and locker rooms at Bigfork, turf three game and practice fields at GRHS.


When is the vote?
April 10, 2018 is election day. 
Polls are open from 7 am - 8 pm at these polling locations.
February 23 is when early voting begins.
Residents may receive an absentee ballot by clicking here.
Or residents may visit the Itasca County Elections Office:
Itasca County Courthouse
123 NE 4th Street
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Phone: 218-327-2849 or email Vicki Martin in the elections office at vicki.martin@co.itasca.mn.us ;

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. Not only do our elementary schools not have enough classroom, support, gym and cafeteria space – they don’t have the right space for how kids learn today. 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. 

We don’t have enough space for state-mandated Early Childhood Education classes and can’t meet parent demand for these classes which help prepare children for Kindergarten and put them on a path to school success.

We have serious health and safety needs at our district athletic and activities facilities. Locker and weight rooms at Bigfork are inadequate and while we’ve added four sports at Grand Rapids high school, we haven’t added practice or game space, forcing students to practice in parking lots, hallways and streets. 

Here’s a closer look at our elementary 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 resulted in the closure of Kindergarten enrollment in Southwest and Murphy schools for 2017-2018 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 creates 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, like most middle schools, 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. Now these 5th grade rooms are needed for growth in enrollment at 6th – 8th grade levels. This enrollment growth at the middle school level is expected to last for years to come. 
  • 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 elementary school building’s core is 95 years old, the youngest is 60. 
  • 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. 
  • Older buildings are harder to retrofit for necessary education technology access.
Building new now makes the best economic sense
  • 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. Remodeling and expansion of our elementary school buildings is projected to cost more than 60% of the cost of building new. 
  • Interest rates are at near-historic lows. 
  • Construction costs remain favorable.
  • Costs will likely increase every year we wait.


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. These sites have been obtained at a reduced cost to taxpayers through a land exchange with the City of Grand Rapids for the Forest Lake Elementary site and a portion of the Riverview Elementary site.

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?
In May 2017, members of the EFT toured and examined each elementary school in great detail, utilizing checklists provided by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). 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 is on.

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 parkland 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?
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.


Why do we need more Early Childhood Education space?
The 2018 School Board plan would add needed early childhood education space at Cohasset and would repurpose Southwest Elementary as an early childhood education center.

Research shows that children enrolled in quality early childhood education are significantly more likely to achieve future benchmarks of success – even beyond school.

Unfortunately, our district’s three to five-year-olds are at a disadvantage compared to children in neighboring districts. Currently, only 25 % of eligible children in the ISD 318 district are enrolled in early childhood education, whereas in Deer River and Greenway that number is 75-80%. For example, In Deer River, the recent renovation and expansion at Cyrus King Elementary provides the necessary early childhood education space to meet demand, as well as space for community education and a senior center. Here in ISD 318, the district has the ability to operate more pre-K classes — but we don’t have the space. 

Right now, the district is leasing space throughout our community to provide early childhood programming. These fourteen pre-K classrooms are in the Itasca Resource Center, in church basements, and other space not designed for early childhood education. We can’t operate as efficiently as we could if the classes were held in a central location or locations with all the support services students and staff need. 

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. The AFT also spent time this summer meeting with community organizations and surveying families to find a solution for our activity facility problems.

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.

You are invited to stay involved by attending a listening session in February 2018. You are also encouraged to share your thoughts by calling 218-327-5723 or emailing .

How much will the plan cost?
Here is the breakdown by ballot question:
Ballot Question 1 – total cost of $68.9 million: 
  • Build two new neighborhood elementary schools in Grand Rapids to replace the three existing schools, some of which could be re-purposed for early childhood education.
  • Renovate and expand at Cohasset Elementary, which includes adding more early childhood classrooms and shared community education and wellness center space.
Tax increase for the owner of a home in the district valued at $150,000 would be $7.72 a month.

Ballot Question 2 – total cost of $5 million:
  • Make improvements to local athletic and activities facilities to meet the health, safety and space needs of ISD 318 students and the larger community, including improvements to the Bigfork locker and weight rooms. 
  • Install turf at Noble Field, Legion Field, and the practice field. 
Tax increase for the owner of a home in the district valued at $150,000 would be 58¢ a month

Ballot question 1 must pass for ballot question 2 to pass 
If both ballot questions pass, the tax increase for the owner of a home in the district valued at $150,000 would be $8.30 a month
Home, business, agricultural and seasonal property owners can determine their tax impact on a tax calculator.
 


What did the School Board do to find cost savings in their plan?
The EFT, AFT, teachers and community partners worked with the School Board to make this plan as cost-conscious as possible while meeting school and community needs. This plan is less expensive than the 2015 plan, and local residents get more for their investment this year.


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 in the EFT and AFT 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 the larger Cohasset community get from this?
In Cohasset, the district is partnering with the city to create a school that shares space with a community center, a larger gym, and early childhood space. This city/school partnership maximizes efficient use of space and operating budget to benefit all residents.

What does Bigfork have to gain or lose in this?
Bigfork would get improved weight and locker room facilities under this plan. Current weight and locker rooms at Bigfork high school are inadequate. 

In addition, 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 and for leasing portable classrooms and space offsite to meet growing space demands.


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. We currently have an open enrollment policy that provides needed operating dollars without excessively impacting classroom space.

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 and it had other structural issues that would not have been feasible to address because of the cost. 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. 

Why do we need to address activity facilities?
Kids who participate in activities and athletics are more engaged in and often do better in school. They have better GPAs, better attendance, and are less likely to experience truancy issues or dropout. But at Bigfork and Grand Rapids High Schools, the state of our activity facilities limits the opportunities available to kids.

At Bigfork, the lockers rooms are small and kids are changing in classrooms because of a lack of space. The school is unable to host multiple sports on a single evening.

Grand Rapids High School has added four sports but has not added any more practice or performance space. The vast majority of our field-based teams practice off campus, with students driving to sites across the city. Noble Hall field is limited in its use and still becomes a sea of mud by early October. The practice field (old Stadium Field) condition has deteriorated. Student-athletes practice in parking lots, hallways and even the streets.  Band members practice in a parking lot – under the guidance of their band director who stands a ladder set back near the woods. 

Our fields are in such high demand for our students, that we have taxpayer-funded fields that cannot be used by taxpayers. The Activity Facilities Plan addresses this need.

Why does Bigfork need a new locker room and weight facility?

Bigfork School has locker rooms that are undersized and kids are using inappropriate spaces to change. This has caused increased health and safety concerns. The available space at Bigfork School limits the number of competitions that can be hosted, with many student athletes using classrooms or other areas as locker rooms. This would allow Bigfork School to host more events, increase the health and safety of their student-athletes and enhance the health of all students at Bigfork School.

Why turf all three fields at GRHS? Why not just one or two?
Installing artificial surfaces on all three fields allows this plan to increase access for the entire community. If only one field were turfed, the school district would be the single user, based on demand and scheduling. If two fields were completed, the school district would monopolize most of the use with little room for community and youth athletics. With all three fields turfed, this complex becomes a community and school district venture. In addition, by installing turf on Legion Field, the community would add another football-sized field. If we turf all three we actually gain green space.

Isn’t turf a luxury? 
Artificial turf has quickly become the standard for athletic fields across Minnesota. In Northern Minnesota alone numerous schools, including Duluth Denfeld, Duluth East, Ordean Middle School, Lincoln Park Middle School, Proctor, Esko, Mountain Iron-Buhl, Moorhead and Mesabi East have added turf. Bemidji utilizes turf for their competitions and Superior, WI High School has installed an all-turf complex, consisting of a baseball field, softball field, and football stadium. 

Who uses the fields?
The fields would be utilized by Grand Rapids High School, Itasca Community College, and the Grand Rapids community. This plan would allow for youth and club soccer, lacrosse and other sports to have a dedicated practice space during their seasons. 

What are the benefits of artificial turf?
In addition to providing additional space that does not wear in the way that grass fields do, turfed fields provide a uniform playing surface, allow for PE use of the fields during the day, bring over 350 varsity practices back to campus, allow for community use of the fields and provide space for youth and club athletics and activities.

Is turf safe?
Multiple scientific studies have been conducted on the safety of artificial surfaces and none have found a link between the crumb rubber used in turf fields and cancer. In addition, studies have been completed looking at incidents of cancer in crumb rubber factories and researchers have found no link between working in a crumb rubber plant and cancer. 

Studies also have been conducted exploring how long bacteria remains present and viable on artificial and natural surfaces. These studies have concluded that bacteria does not live longer on artificial surfaces and in many cases have a shorter life cycle than on natural surfaces. 

Long term, does this save the district money or will it be an added expense?
Currently, the district spends roughly $50,000 in labor and materials to maintain the two district-owned sites. The cost of maintaining an artificial field is between $4,000 and $5,000/year. In addition to this, the district would save over $20,000 in lease levy money by bringing soccer and lacrosse back to campus to practice. 

How many programs will this plan impact?
This plan will impact nearly every athletic program in Grand Rapids. From providing dedicated space for club and youth activities to returning high school practices to campus, nearly all students will be impacted. This plan also helps to ease much-needed gym space in the spring by providing a surface that outdoor spring sports can utilize earlier in the year. 

Does this remove the band from practicing in the Reif parking lot?
Yes, the band will now have a dedicated, appropriate place to practice, free of interference from commuters and without the risk of running into parking lot obstructions or tripping on uneven pavement.

Can the community have access to the new fields?
Yes, this plan would allow for community use of the fields as well. By installing artificial surfaces, the fields will be able to be used longer each day and longer during the spring, summer, and fall. The anticipated uses of each field should increase over ten times the current limit. 

How long do turf fields last?
The fields will last between 10 and 12 years before needing to be replaced.

How much does it cost to replace a turf field?
Replacement cost is about ⅓ of the installation cost. Each field would cost a little over $400,000 to replace

How will the field replacement be paid for?
We anticipate that the district will plan for field replacements once they are installed. There are multiple options to consider, but the plan would not include asking voters to approve new spending when the life cycle of the fields are complete. 


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 .