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School begins to revise $20 million building wish list

Posted 10/20/15 (Tue)

By Jody Michael
A sense of urgency over aging heating systems has led the Divide County School District to start discussing how to revise the building renovation plans that voters chose not to fund in an April ballot measure.
In their regular monthly meeting Thursday, board members were unanimous in feeling pressure to get new heating systems in place this summer, despite uncertainty over how to fund them.
“It’s not even an option anymore -- it needs to be done,” board member Holly Krecklau said. “We can’t be sitting here saying, ‘Maybe next year.’ The kids are wearing winter coats one day and sweating the next. Our fingers are crossed hoping we can make it to the next year.”
Superintendent Sherlock Hirning said he suspects that voters objected to the size of April’s $20 million bond measure, but not to the heating upgrades.
“I think the community understands the need for heating,” Hirning said. “Even if that weren’t the case, it’s a necessity. We have to find the money somehow to do this.”
A June measure to increase the building fund levy by $250,000, however, was also unsuccessful.
Two representatives from architectural firm EAPC, architect Sean Sugden and mechanical department manager Anthony Corcoran, were at the meeting to discuss potential updates to the school’s building plan.
Energy sources
Hirning asked Corcoran to explain the cost analysis of various energy sources that EAPC performed this summer, in which the firm recommended that the school replace its coal heating equipment with a geothermal system.
“We want the best value for our investment,” Hirning told Corcoran. “I want to be able to stand at a meeting and know that what I’m recommending is the best solution. How do you know geothermal is better?”
Compared to continuing with coal, Corcoran said, a geothermal system would have higher upfront costs but lower yearly fuel costs, generating savings in the long run.
In addition, he added, geothermal systems would be long-lasting with far less upkeep.
“They’ll probably last 100 years or more,” Corcoran said. “No maintenance needed unless there’s a leak.”
One issue the district needs to resolve is that switching energy sources would impact St. Luke’s Care Center, which gets its heat from the neighboring high school through an agreement between the two entities.
Hirning said he intends to iron everything out so the district can seek construction bids in January for installation to take place during the summer.
Adding on with public input
In speaking with staff members recently, Hirning said he found strong support for continuing to seek at least some of the school’s expansion and renovation plans.
He also suggested bringing members of the public into the discussion throughout the revision process, rather than waiting until after the plans are complete and an election date is set.
“I asked how they felt about bringing in community people to the discussion right off the bat -- not waiting, but getting it upfront,” Hirning said. “I think everybody agreed that’s a good option to pursue.”
Board members all agreed that they should improve upon their communication with the public about the building plans.
“Last time, they didn’t realize the needs,” Krecklau said. “They didn’t realize the desperation behind it. People don’t understand we’re talking millions for just a heating system.”
Hirning said he expects the revisions would reduce the number of classrooms and might not include an entire middle school.
Discussion of which parts of the building plans to retain and abandon will continue during committee meetings in the coming months.
More teacher license issues
For the second time this calendar year, frustration over North Dakota’s licensure requirements has led a newly arrived teacher to resign from the district.
The board accepted a letter of resignation from Charlene Moore, less than two months after she began teaching a Divide County Elementary third-grade class. Moore said she moved to Zahl this summer from Mississippi, where she had taught for 10 years.
In order for Moore to receive a North Dakota teaching license, Hirning said, the state’s Education Standards and Practices Board required her to commit to certification testing to meet further standards than she had originally needed in Mississippi.
“North Dakota is asking her to retake it with the new standards,” Hirning said. “She doesn’t want to put in the time. She did not think that getting a North Dakota certificate was going to be an issue; it didn’t turn out to be that way.”
Back in February, junior-high math teacher Frank Luke resigned after expressing agitation that his nine years of teaching experience were insufficient for obtaining North Dakota licensure.
Luke’s Florida teaching license was an alternative certificate, for which he qualified through his degree in a non-education program and work experience relevant to mathematics.
Moore was one of nine teachers new to the Divide County School District this year, six of whom are from out of state.