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Board again delays Discovery decision

As the Fargo School Board again postponed the fate of Discovery Junior High, neighbor and parent Bret Simmons wondered if board members were considering public opinion.

As the Fargo School Board again postponed the fate of Discovery Junior High, neighbor and parent Bret Simmons wondered if board members were considering public opinion.

"The public has commented and we want a new high school," he said Tuesday. "Are they listening?"

Since May, the School Board has debated whether Discovery should become the district's third high school.

If it isn't a high school, Discovery will serve as a middle school. A new high school then will be built near 52nd Avenue South and Interstate 29.

The 52nd Avenue site provides a unique opportunity to design a state-of-the-art high school while offering flexibility for future needs, said parent Nancy Knowlton.

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"I am concerned that by making Discovery the new high school, we will find ourselves eventually constrained by the building and space at that site," she said.

She and Simmons addressed the board. Five other neighbors attended the meeting.

Much of the board's discussion Tuesday focused on which option would offer the biggest economic impact.

The far-south site is 71 acres, which means there is more room for community partnerships, such as sharing amenities with the Park District or city library.

The Park District said it wants to partner with the School District on an outdoor and indoor aquatics facility somewhere south of Interstate 90, said Dan Huffman, assistant superintendent. Either the Discovery site or 52nd Avenue site could fill that need, he said.

The Park District also plans to put hockey ice on land it owns near the School District's 52nd Avenue site. In November, the Fargo Library Board will meet with board members to talk about partnership options as it seeks to expand services, said Jim Johnson, board chairman.

For some board members, those opportunities are good reasons to put a high school on the far-south site.

"At the Discovery site, none of those options exist," said board member Paul Meyers.

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Dan Fremling said opportunities to partner with other agencies will be available regardless of what kind of school is built on the far-south site.

"I think the Park District will work with us no matter what," he said.

Board member Rick Steen said he favors converting Discovery into a high school because of cost. Administrators estimate it will cost between $4 million and $8 million more to build a new high school and convert Discovery into a middle school than the reverse.

"Spending $6 million more on a building that won't improve student outcomes isn't necessary," he said.

Spending more money on bricks and mortar could mean the district will have less money to spend on teacher salaries and other programs in the future, he said.

Administrators said they will show how each building scenario might affect future budgets when the board meets Oct. 26.

Simmons said he hopes the board doesn't just consider cost and efficiency when making the decision. "That's shortsighted," he said.

Building a high school on the 52nd Avenue site would draw small businesses such as gas stations and coffee shops to the area, he said. That would be good for the city. A middle school would be less likely to do that, he said.

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It's uncertain when the School Board will make a decision. Board member Don Faulkner was absent from Tuesday's meeting. Fremling will not be able to attend the Oct. 26 meeting.

Board members are almost evenly split on the issue, making each vote particularly important.

"It would be a real shame to make a decision when we're so divided," Meyers said. "Maybe that means we don't have all the answers we need yet."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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