Survey finds Moorhead residents favor renovating, not replacing, high school

Moorhead High School is seen Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Moorhead High School is seen Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD – A recent survey of 400 voters in Moorhead found that most are in favor of renovating Moorhead High School for additional capacity and improvements rather than building a new one.

The district's school board went over survey results Monday, Dec. 10, with consultant Don Lifto, of Springsted Inc. The St. Paul firm was called on at the request of the district as it considers going to voters with a bond referendum next November. Interviews with a random set of participants were completed between Nov. 14 and 19, and results have a 5 percent margin of error.

Superintendent Brandon Lunak told The Forum that he feels good about the results showing support of the district's decision to address the aging and crowded high school. A facilities task force will be using the results to formulate a recommendation presented to the board sometime in January.

"It really gives you a sense that the community really supports the schools and they really believe strongly in what we're trying to accomplish," he said.

Three options were presented to callers in the survey: expanding the existing high school to serve 2,400 students or building a new high school to serve 2,400 students while also finding a new use for the existing high school. The third option is a hybrid of the two plans that involves renovating the existing high school to serve 1,200 students and building a new high school to serve 1,200 students.

Enrollment at the high school is currently 1,700 students. Fargo Public School district's three high schools have enrollments that range from 944 students at North High, 926 at South High and about 1,250 at Davies, according to district data.

Strongest support in the survey was given for expansion of the existing high school, nearly 70 percent. Less supported renovating it and building a new high school, about 60 percent, and about 50 percent were in favor of a plan to only build a new high school.

Those opposing the option of only building a new high school was close to 30 percent, whereas 14 percent opposed the option of expanding the high school. Twenty-two percent of callers opposed the hybrid option.

Callers were also asked how important it would be to share the same mascot and athletic programs if the district had two high schools. Thirty-two percent of callers thought a shared identity was extremely or very important while 42 percent felt it was not important.

As for the levy impact on taxpayers, the survey recommends it should be no higher than $115 for an average home. Participants were asked about four potential property tax increases: $50, $80, $110 and $140 per year. Support decreased as the tax impact increased, going from 77 percent in support of $50, to 50 percent in favor of $140. Impacts were for a home valued at $200,000.

Enrollment trend information increased support levels and callers were in favor of security upgrades, more classroom technology and flexible learning spaces. But the survey found weaker support for building an events facility, swimming pool and indoor athletic space.

In other news, Lunak presented a proposed idea to address capacity concerns at the elementary level. A plan estimated to cost about $6 million would move the Spanish immersion program at Ellen Hopkins Elementary into the district office at Probstfield Center for Education, 2410 14th St S. The plan would involve moving the district office to the old Muscatell facility, 1313 30th Ave. S., serving as the district's new operations and transportation center.

"I don't want to have to build a fifth elementary when we have to take care of our high school situation," he said.

About 315 students are in the immersion program, which has a wait list with about 20 students. The board was in favor of making space for the program to accommodate the families interested in enrolling.