Crookston School District leaders, when it comes to short and long-term facilities needs in the three public school buildings and on other district properties, aren’t spending all of their time talking about the suddenly more urgent need to find a new home for Pirate football and track and field. Although that has been identified by the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee as a pressing need that needs to be explored sooner rather than later, there are other conversations being had around the table.
Following is a sampling, with an indication of whether or not the particular topic carries “if” or “when” status:
• The committee gave Superintendent Jeremy Olson the go-ahead to continue to pursue energy rebates from Otter Tail Power Company to replace traditional fluorescent lighting with LED lights. He’s going to focus on Crookston High School at this juncture, since the rebate there, a projected $47,000, is the highest among the three school buildings. The rebate makes the cost of making the switch worth considering, Olson said, especially when the resulting savings on lighting bills are factored in. The projected rebate at Highland School is $19,000; at Washington School it’s around $7,000.
Olson said the CHS switch-out should be pursued in earnest right away, since, he said, he’s getting the feeling that electricity providers such as Otter Tail are losing their incentive to offer hefty rebates when so many companies and organizations are switching to LED lights.
If there’s a downside, Olson added, it’s that projects related to energy efficiency aren’t eligible to be financed with long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) funds from the state.
• With the school board continuing to earmark anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 a year in technology investments thanks to revenue from a voter-approved operating levy referendum, Olson said one of the big-ticket items approaching over the next couple of years is replacing staff MacBooks at all three schools.
• There are two school bus purchases in next year’s budget. Asked if the district, with a new bus garage on the way, will now be free to buy school buses with more advanced designs that won’t have to be retrofitted to fit in the current transportation facility, Transportation and Buildings/Grounds Coordinator Rick Niemela said there are pros and cons on both sides when comparing “conventional” school buses to “non-conventional” models. For instance, he noted, conventional buses have a tighter turning radius, which is beneficial in Crookston’s older neighborhoods with their narrower streets, especially when the snow is piled high in the winter.
The district for years has purchased Bluebird buses, and Niemela also noted that it’s important for the mechanics to have tools that work on the entire bus fleet.
Asked about buying buses equipped with seat belts for the students, Niemela said it’s certainly worth considering, but he said it also adds thousands of dollars to the cost of a new bus. Olson, while noting that no one is against student safety and buckling up, there could potentially be issues with students unbuckling themselves mid-route, especially if there was some type of crash or other incident.
• New laminate floors are on tap for CHS in summer 2020.
• Entrance doors at Highland School will be replaced later this year. Olson says the current doors, the school’s original doors, are significantly rusted. He’s looking to purchase aluminum frame doors, and he’s interested in exploring outer sets of doors that allow people to walk in without having to be beeped in, but then having the second set of doors being equipped with a security system.
“We want to be safe and secure but polite, too, by getting people to a warm place when it’s the middle of winter, and then we can have them buzz at the second set (of doors),” Olson explained. “It’s more customer-friendly, more welcoming. I don’t see a real strategic advantage to people being outside because maybe we don’t vet them as closely. It’s like, ‘He’s freezing, let him in.’”
The doors will be eligible for LTFM dollars.
• Committee members are interested in putting the words “Home of the Pirates” in large letters on the curved exterior wall at CHS that goes around the auditorium near the school’s main entrance. They directed Olson to pursue the cost and scope of such a project.
• Although he said it’s a longer-range concern, Olson said he’d like to address sound issues in the CHS media center and computer labs. With no floor-to-ceiling walls and no false ceiling, the superintendent said it’s “really difficult” for teachers to teach with all of the student traffic coming by frequently. “I’m not sure of the solution, but it would be nice to isolate those rooms a little better so they’re more like classrooms,” Olson said, adding that the cost and scope would likely increase “in a hurry” because it would require a modification of the air-handling system in that area of the building.
But committee members said it was worth exploring.
“I don’t know how (the teachers) do it with the noise level there,” committee member Mike Theis said.
• Olson acknowledged the weight room at CHS needs to be upgraded. “As cheap as I am, I walk through there and I know it’s not acceptable,” he said. “We’re about excellence and that is not excellence.” He said Activities Director Greg Garmen is looking into the matter.
• Speaking of Garmen, he’s leading the call for new tables and chairs in the CHS commons. For one, he said, it’s a hassle for the custodial staff to have to deal with the detached chairs every day while cleaning the floor. (He suggested attached chairs that pop up.) And for another, Garmen said the current tables and chairs are not in blue and gold Pirate colors, but more resemble East Grand Forks Green Wave colors.
Theis agreed that it’s worth looking into.
“Small things add up and make a difference, like the quality of a chair or the colors,” he said.
The tables and chairs in the common are the building’s original and are now 23 years old. But, Olson stressed, they’re still in good shape. “I understand your concerns, but is aesthetics a good investment of taxpayer dollars?” Olson said.
• Olson wants door #10 at CHS, which leads to the school district office, to be more inviting for the public. Currently, people who don’t know the area walk in to a wall of file cabinets and can’t see any staff until they walk in and take a left. When he came to interview for the superintendent job, Olson said it was one of the first things he noticed. “My first impression was, this is their district office entrance?” he recalled.
While saying he realizes that investing money in things related to administration is rarely popular with the public, the superintendent said, ideally, the district office entrance would have more of an attractive storefront feel. “First impressions do matter,” he noted.
The heavy, metal door at the entrance is getting old, Olson added, so maybe as part of replacing it down the road other improvements could be explored.
• Theis wants HVAC improvements at CHS to be looked into now instead of later, mostly so people attending Pirate games in the gymnasium don’t have to endure sweltering conditions. “It’s 85 in there and it’s awful,” he said. “Or it’s 70 when a game starts and gets to 85, especially when you sit up high. We need to do better. If the rest of the school is like that…wow.”
Olson said he’s meeting with the district’s HVAC contractor, Johnson Controls, to discuss things he’d like to do differently. He also said building staff need to be better trained on how to best control the school’s HVAC system. “We’re in negotiations to improve the user experience,” Olson said.