It has been a busy few weeks at Park Rapids Area Schools. Students have returned to in-person learning, and our athletes are back to competing. While we are not back to “normal,” these recent steps are certainly encouraging.

If the difficulties of the pandemic taught us anything, it is the value of having students in the classroom, collaborating with teachers and peers. Today, we have an opportunity to improve these learning spaces and position our district for success in the decades to come. After engaging residents, community leaders and independent experts over the past two years, we concluded that our school buildings could no longer support our growing enrollment and the wide range of educational programming necessary to prepare our students for life after graduation.

That is why Park Rapids Area School Board members will propose a $59.8 million bond referendum on the April 13 ballot to address critical issues with our aging school buildings. If approved, this investment would expand and renovate our buildings to better meet the needs of students.

At the high school, educational spaces have received little to no renovation since the building was constructed in 1970. Some areas, including the bathrooms, do not meet ADA requirements for those with disabilities. According to state recommendations, nearly all of the classrooms are too small. The same is true at Frank White Education Center, where our district’s early education and Alternative Learning Center are located.

Expanding classroom space is especially important for career and technical education (CTE). CTE has quickly grown into an integral part of the PRAHS curriculum through the “Panther Tracks” program. In just five years, PRAHS has implemented courses for 22 different career focuses, allowing students to better explore their passions and prepare for jobs after graduation.

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Unfortunately, we have stretched the capacity of the school’s 50-year-old classrooms about as far as we can. They simply can’t support these programs adequately because CTE needs a combination of flexible, hands-on spaces as well as smaller, core-focused spaces.

We also believe students should be exposed to career programs at an earlier age, which is why the investment plan includes a new wing at the high school to accommodate grades 7-9.

At Century, we need more space. The building has served us well over the last 20 years, but instructional space is entirely maxed out. All rooms previously used for breakout spaces have now been repurposed as classrooms.

Both school buildings also require renovations that have become necessary as they age. This includes properly secured entrances to keep our students safe, and an additional parking lot and drop-off loop at Century. Additional district facilities like the tennis courts and playground equipment at Century also need replacement for student and community use.

I encourage you to learn more about the needs of our facilities at PRoject309.org. There, you will find more details about the plan, the tax impact and how to vote.

I look forward to answering your questions as we approach election day (April 13). I can be reached at lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or 218-237-6501.

Go Panthers!