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School in its final days

SYKESTON, N.D. - After nearly 100 years of students walking the halls and learning in the classrooms, Sykeston Public School will close its doors Friday.

SYKESTON, N.D. - After nearly 100 years of students walking the halls and learning in the classrooms, Sykeston Public School will close its doors Friday.

"It's very sad to see the school closing," said Diane Hafner, Sykeston's city auditor and a 1965 graduate of the school. "But I am a realist, and I know without students and money in the district, you just can't continue."

Voters said "yes" in a Nov. 9 special election to combining the Sykeston and Carrington school districts. Sykeston's enrollment has been steadily declining to a low of 55 students last year.

Like Hafner, the majority of Sykeston residents accept the school closing. The hot question now is, "What's going to happen to the old school building?"

Carrington School District officials have said they plan to use Sykeston's gymnasium for sports practices and other activities. The gym is in an addition that was built in 1962 and is all one level.


The main school building was built in 1913. One possibility discussed at a Sykeston City Council meeting was demolishing the old part of the building, something that upset many residents.

"Votes might have gone different about the closure of the school (if people had known the building might be demolished)," said Shelly Kurtz of Sykeston, a 1982 graduate of the school.

Dr. Charles Brickner, superintendent of the Carrington School District, said no funds have been set aside to demolish the building. The new District 49 School Board, which includes representatives from Sykeston, will decide what to do with the building after July 1.

He speculated that School Board members would likely maintain the building until the community can explore alternate uses. He said it would be up to the community to develop a plan for the building.

"The new School Board will look at all options," he said.

A Preserve Sykeston Committee has been formed in an attempt to save the school.

"It's too nice of an old building to tear down," said committee member Julie Seil, a 1977 graduate and Sykeston resident.

The committee has discussed options that include turning the old building into a hunting lodge or renting out rooms to local business people, said Kurtz, also a committee member. It is also looking at how to get grant money or other donations to save the school.


Committee members aren't alone in their concern. They have heard from many former Sykeston residents who feel the same way, Seil and Kurtz said.

Robert Neumiller, a 1975 graduate now living in St. Peter, Minn., sent an e-mail in support of saving the building that is posted in Sykeston's Country Cafe. He wrote that without the school, Sykeston loses its identity and former residents have one less reason to return.

"Too many of Sykeston's landmarks have already been put under the bulldozer or just left to the elements," Neumiller wrote. "Can't we save just one?"

Sykeston resident Judy Winady, a 1971 graduate, doesn't want to see the building torn down. Her biggest concern is having enough time to explore all the options.

Others, like Hafner, would rather see the building demolished now than deteriorate slowly over time as it stands empty.

"That would be even sadder than taking it down and giving it a respectful burial," she said.

The city can't afford to heat the old part of the building. And if Sykeston purchased it, it would have to be renovated to be handicapped accessible, Hafner said.

"I don't think moneywise that it's feasible," she said.


But that doesn't mean Hafner wouldn't be happy if somebody came up with a plan for the building and made it work.

"It's a part of your history, part of your life," she said.

Gary Garman, a 1965 graduate of Sykeston High School, can see both sides of the issue. While he fondly remembers attending the school, he doesn't want to see it shuttered up and falling apart.

The issue has caused some hard feelings in the community, even among family members, Garman said.

"It's kind of divided the town," he said. "You hate to see that."

Kurtz said it's too bad people are fighting over the issue. That wasn't what the committee wanted.

"I just hope that we can come together as a community to seek out what is best for the community," she said.

Jessen is a reporter for the Jamestown (N.D.) Sun, a Forum Communications newspaper

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