COMMENTARY: PRoject 309: Planning for the future of our schools
Park Rapids Area Schools seek community input before taking action to address the schools' facility needs.
Park Rapids is a wonderful place to work and raise a family. More people are discovering our vibrant community and the high-quality education our school district provides.
As a result, Park Rapids student enrollment is steadily rising – 6 percent over the past decade. In less than 10 years, enrollment is projected to increase by an additional 10 percent.
We are thrilled to welcome so many new faces. As we celebrate and take pride in our schools, we are looking ahead to determine how we can best serve the needs of students today and for years to come.
A key part of student education is the quality of our school buildings, as proven by our community’s investment in Century School in 1999. Opened in 2001, Century School has allowed our youngest students to be under the same roof and greatly increased curriculum choices, programs and services. The change also added much-needed classrooms and brought our educational spaces up to expected standards at the time of construction.
The district has diligently watched interest rates and refinanced the debt on Century School twice – creating a taxpayer savings of $4.2 million over the life of the bond. By 2025, the remaining bond payments for the Century School referendum will be paid off.
Now, the district is considering the next set of priorities in our other buildings, which are more than 30 years older than Century School, as well as performing needed maintenance on the Century building.
Over the last eight months, the district carefully evaluated and discussed the condition of our school buildings with the Park Rapids community. We held 19 listening sessions with staff, students and residents, and we’re grateful to everyone who participated. A team of independent experts also conducted a series of assessments of our buildings.
We learned about critical challenges within our school buildings that must be addressed, including space shortages, safety concerns and infrastructure in need of major repairs.
The way we deliver education has changed since our facilities were constructed. This has resulted in some of our classrooms being undersized for hands-on, collaborative learning. We must expand and modernize our educational spaces to support today’s teaching standards.
Another top concern is security. Currently, the distance between entrances and main offices at our buildings doesn’t allow proper monitoring of visitors. Security measures must be improved so we always know who is entering and leaving our buildings during school hours. At Century School, crowded drop-off and pick-up areas create safety hazards.
At Park Rapids High School, which was constructed in 1968, the restrooms are original to the building and do not accommodate students and staff with disabilities. The classroom and gym areas lack proper ventilation to prevent air quality issues. Portions of the roof are approaching end of life, and the north and west parking lots are deteriorating and in need of significant maintenance.
The Frank White Education Center, built in 1956, lacks temperature control in classrooms and an adequate parking lot. The building’s roof has reached the end of its useful life. In addition, playground equipment does not meet federal accessibility (ADA) standards.
After nearly 20 years, Century School needs the types of repairs buildings require as they age, such as updates to the roof, mechanical systems, doors, flooring and parking lot.
By investing in our buildings, we can provide a safe and modern learning environment for our students that will better equip them for their futures, regardless of whether they choose college or start their careers. At the same time, we are conscientious that any new investment must provide the best value for taxpayers.
We will continue to listen and learn from community members before taking action. As the school board moves forward to develop the best plan to improve the quality of our schools, your feedback is vital. We want any plan to reflect the priorities of our staff and residents.
Please share your comments and questions on the district’s dedicated website: PRoject309.org. You can also reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-237-6500.