Moorhead school officials outline need for $110 million bond vote
MOORHEAD — Tina Bentz showed a group of visitors around her social studies classroom in the basement of Moorhead Senior High.
She pointed to a corner where maintenance people sometimes have to access the school's sewer system, which requires temporarily relocating students until the problem is solved.
Bentz also pointed out the obvious: her classroom, like about 70 percent of Moorhead high's other classrooms, has no windows.
"It's very difficult in the winter months," said Bentz, adding that for many days out of the year she sees little or no daylight, because she arrives for work early in the morning and often leaves after it turns dark.
She said studies show student performance suffers when exposure to sunshine declines and after 15 years working underground, she can attest that it doesn't do wonders for a teacher's outlook, either.
"It really does take a toll," said Bentz, whose classroom was one stop on a tour of the high school that officials provided reporters on Friday, Sept. 27.
The aim of the tour: highlight reasons Moorhead Area Public Schools are asking voters to go to the polls on Nov. 5 and approve a $110 million bond issue.
So, what will that bond issue pay for?
The short answer is covering the cost of demolishing most of the current academic space at Moorhead High School and replacing it with a new high school.
It will also help transform the former Sam's Club in Moorhead into a career academy, which will aim to help students make big decisions, like how they will spend their time and resources after leaving high school.
'A little heartbreaking'
The longer answer to the question of what the referendum will pay for was provided by teachers like Bentz and other school officials who told their stories Friday.
If a new high school is built, they said, there will be no underground classrooms.
Also, the 12 different floor levels students must now navigate will be reduced to a fraction of that number, something Meagan Blake, who teaches special education, said cannot happen soon enough for her students, some of whom require motorized wheelchairs.
Blake said students are allowed five minutes to get between classes, but it takes some of her students seven minutes or more.
Also, she said, the school's commons are packed every day for lunch, making it hard if not impossible for students with disabilities to find seats.
Angela Doll, assistant principal at the high school, has seen the difficulties students with disabilities face when trying to navigate crowded hallways and lunch times.
"It's a little heartbreaking, because they're different already and now they're more different," Doll said.
Another significant need is space.
This year's senior class, expected to number about 450, will be the smallest graduating class for some time, as up-and-coming classes are expected to be much larger.
This year's fourth-grade class, for example, numbers about 608.
The high school, which was built in the late 1960s to house grades 10-12, now has about 1,860 students in grades 9-12, which puts it at just over its capacity of 1,800.
Referendum dollars would build a high school to accommodate 2,200 to 2,400 students.
If the project is approved, construction could start in early 2021, with the work taking four years to complete.
While space is an issue at the high school, degradation resulting from time and wear are also a major concern, at least according to Rebecca Meyer-Larson, who has taught at Moorhead High for about 29 years.
Meyer-Larson teaches English and serves as the school speech coach and theater director.
Creativity flourishes at Moorhead High in spite of — not because of — physical resources, according to Meyer-Larson.
She said stage productions are successful even though the stage itself is warped and stage hands must deal with a lofty catwalk system so narrow a cat might think twice before climbing into it.
Meyer-Larson added that her late father stopped coming to her productions because of a slow-moving elevator he had to use to circumvent a flight of stairs.
"My father was a man in a wheelchair who couldn't see my shows," she said. "Creativity flourishes with obstacles, but I'm just asking we have a few less obstacles," she added.
Dean Haugo, activities director at the high school, said the sprawling nature of the high school's layout also creates a problem when it comes to keeping the building secure, especially after hours when various activities are held in the building.
Security is also an issue with the locker rooms, according to Haugo. Problems are manifold, from limited bathroom facilities to being able to safely accommodate visiting teams.
One of the biggest issues, according to Haugo, is the fact school staff have a difficult time supervising the space, given the height of lockers, which obscure sight lines.
He said that isn't good when tempers flare and the locker room becomes a place where people decide they want to settle their differences.
"Truthfully, this (space) becomes a hot spot, though it's one of the toughest spots to monitor effectively," Haugo said.
According to information provided by the district, the annual tax impact if the referendum is approved would be about $93 on a home valued at $200,000.
The school district plans a number of events to inform the public about the high school/career academy referendum.
They include tours of the high school, located at 2300 4th Ave. S. One tour starts at 6 pm. on Friday, Oct. 4. Other tours will start at 7 p.m., with one scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 17, and another for Tuesday, Oct. 29.
A community forum hosted by the League of Women Voters is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10.
In addition, a "state of the district session" is set for 6 p.m., Oct. 24, at the Probstfield Center Board room, 2410 14th St. S.
Other stops on Friday's tour of Moorhead High included a peek at the school's heating and cooling infrastructure located on one of the highest levels of the school.
Rick Kraft, whose job is to keep things like the school's boilers going, noted that the boilers' 50 percent efficiency rating doesn't compare favorably to modern hardware rated at 90 percent or higher.
He also showed off pieces of corroded pipe that had been replaced, describing how keeping the school's climate comfortable for students and staff was becoming more and more of a challenge.
"Some days it can be a nightmare," he said.
Superintendent Brandon Lunak said if the referendum isn't approved, the district will continue making do with the current situation, though some problems just won't be addressed.
"You just can't fix the accessibility issues in there," he said.