In the Spotlight

News & Features
High Price Paid for New Schools
By Hope Deutscher
November 18, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

Schools in the Red River Valley are trying to make the best of a bad business. After a year and a half of rebuilding and repairing the damage of 1997's spring flooding, teachers and students now have some of the newest and best equipped schools in the Upper Midwest.

THE FLOODS OF 1997 HIT the Grand Forks school district hard: three schools totaled, 13 of the district's remaining, 22 buildings damaged, $80 million in losses. But once he got over the shock, Superintendent Mark Sanford saw possibility.

Sanford: We said we have an opportunity here to make sure that our buildings really serve the education programs, styles, and philosophies that we believe in very strongly in Grand Forks.
For six weeks, school officials worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to map out a master plan to rebuild the school district with new building designs and technology upgrades.

The East Grand Forks schools took the same approach on their side of the river.

The hallways of Valley Elementary in East Grand Forks will be empty in a few weeks. The students and teachers will soon move to one of two new elementary schools being built to replace facilities lost in the flood.

Principal Lyle Klausen says school officials decided to send the students to the new schools for several reasons. Valley's attendance has dropped significantly. Before the flood, 400 students attended Valley - now 240 students are enrolled. The school used to draw from two low-lying neighborhoods wiped out by the flood.

Another reason: Klausen says Valley Elementary doesn't meet today's education needs.

Klausen: This is a 40-year-old building, and 40-year-old education facilities don't have all the new pieces that education is expected to have for kids.
Later this month students and teachers will begin attending New Heights and South Point elementary schools. Klausen says the new schools will have amenities Valley Elementary lacks; a cafeteria, stage, upgraded phone system, and more computer labs.
Klausen: We'll have discovery areas, other classrooms where students and teachers can learn, where it's not just their classroom, state-of-the-art technology. We'll have computers and telephones where we can have better access to parents and to communications.
Currently, second-grade teacher Michelle Green has one computer in her classroom. She's the only one who uses it, to check email or write letters to parents. In the new school, the students will be able to use computers regularly, and Green looks forward to using them to teach many subjects.
Green: Spelling, reading, math, science research, social studies, fun - almost every subject you can think of.
Her students are also excited about the possibilities of using computers more often.
Student Voices: 'Cause they are just fun ... There's lots of games on it ... You can learn by little stories that are on and stuff.
The East Grand Forks middle school and high school also have new computers. The district bought 250 new systems after losing many computers to the flood and post-flood looting.

East Grand Forks is the first community in Minnesota to benefit from a state computer restoration program. State prison inmates refurbish older machines donated by businesses, which are then given to schools. In the next few years, the state hopes to distribute more than 18,000 computers.

East Grand Forks Superintendent John Roche says the district has a goal of having one computer for every two children. He says the $200,000 worth of new computers is helping the district move towards that.

Roche: That probably gives us a computer for every four or five students. Which compares very favorably with the state average, which is one-per-twelve. It's nice to be one of the leaders in that area, but we're still looking to go beyond that.
It's an exciting time in many ways, but Roche says the community paid a high financial and human price.
Roche: We would never have had this kind of an opportunity, except for a flood, and again I say we paid a high price for it - the whole community did. But one of the things it also does, is because these facilities are new, our maintenance, renovations and upkeep on the buildings are going to be minimal for the next 20 years.
The Grand Forks and East Grand Forks school districts hope to complete the new and improved schools before year's end.