At Park Rapids Area Schools, we strive to provide the support and services that every student needs to thrive in the classroom.

As a healthy and growing district, we face new challenges and opportunities to help children reach their full potential. This includes ensuring our school buildings support a safe and modern learning environment.

Education doesn’t look the same as it did years ago. Traditionally, students sat in rows of desks while the teacher lectured up front. Today, teachers use a mix of traditional instruction, hands-on activities and collaborative group work to conduct lessons. Technology plays an increasingly important role in the classroom.

As part of the community-led process to plan for the future of our schools, experts evaluated our school buildings and classrooms to determine whether they provide what teachers need for educating students today. This assessment reviewed whether our facilities meet current standards set by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) in different areas, such as safety, security and classroom size.

I want to provide a firsthand report on some of the findings of this report and how the quality of our buildings affects our students and teachers.

Park Rapids High School was opened in 1970 and no longer meets state standards in more than half of the guidelines set forth by the MDE. Two of the top needs are improving security and providing adequate space in classrooms.

When visitors enter the high school building, they must walk more than 100 feet (the length of a Boeing 737) to cross the commons, enter the front office and check in. School entrances today are designed so that visitors go directly to the front office, with no access to the rest of the school until an office employee permits their entry. That way, staff members always know who is entering and leaving throughout the day.

As enrollment rises, the high school lacks adequate space for students. Lack of classroom space hinders flexible teaching methods, such as breaking into small groups. High school classrooms also lack built-in storage for teachers and enough electrical outlets to use technology throughout the day.

The Frank White Education Center was built in 1958, and also falls short of state standards for security, classroom size and site suitability. To align with current standards, the MDE recommends a seamless entry from the outer door though the offices to ensure all visitors receive proper credentials before setting foot in the rest of the building.

With increasing demand for early childhood education at Frank White, all classrooms are undersized. Outside, there is no green space for our young students, who are at the age when class and play time must be balanced. Playground equipment doesn’t meet federal accessibility (ADA) standards, and the ground surface is worn and hazardous.

Similar to the high school and Frank White Education Center, Century School needs relocation of the main offices, directly inside the main entrances, to more closely monitor everyone coming into the building. The drop-off and pick-up area for parents also needs changes to alleviate congestion, increase parking and improve overall safety – issues that appear whenever districts are experiencing enrollment growth.

Over the last several years, space at Century has been stretched and re-purposed to accommodate this growing number of students. Just last year, the district added a seventh kindergarten class by enclosing the end of the 1st grade “pod” (or area) of classrooms. As a result, first-grade teachers must now use the media center or the hallways for group work and other activities that require more room.

Unless we expand our current space at Century, we will sacrifice limited collaborative learning space and uproot a variety of student support services.

To see the full results of the educational adequacy report, I encourage you to visit PRoject309.org. You can view more details on the needs of each of our schools, and the process to identify and prioritize these needs with the Park Rapids community.

Based on the insights we've received from staff and community members so far, the school board and the district are developing several options to address school facilities issues. This month, we will present these options to residents and ask for your feedback. You and your family are invited to join us!

Open houses will be held on March 17, 24 and 26 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Ice cream will be provided, and there will be booths set up where you can stop by, learn about potential solutions and share your feedback. The locations for the events are still being determined, but we will keep you updated and look forward to seeing you there. Mark your calendar and stay tuned for more details.

As we move forward to determine the best path ahead for our district, I appreciate your questions and feedback. These are your schools, and I want to hear what you think. You can reach out through the “Connect” page at PRoject309.org, or contact me directly at lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or 218-237-6500.

Go, Panthers!