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School puts vote on hold

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DETROIT LAKES -- Plans for a new elementary school and other major school building projects in Detroit Lakes are being put on hold for now.

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School board members made that decision during Monday night's regular school board meeting, where they decided an April referendum was simply too soon to get everything together.

Two issues are causing the delay: no land has been identified for a new school, and a more formal request for a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club is being considered.

A collaborative project

At Monday's meeting, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes Pat Petermann addressed the board with the reasons why he believed now would be an opportune time to officially partner the club with the school district.

It's an idea that has been brought up continuously throughout the planning process, but has still escaped any of the architects' building options for the school.

"They've been talking to us since last summer about space needs and we welcomed them as a potential collaborative partner in the project, but they were unable to come up with the funds to help with the building project," said Board Member Tom Seaworth, "but now they are considering a long-term lease."

Seaworth was the one to suggest putting things on hold so that the district has more time to re-think the project with the Boys and Girls Club in mind.

"We're taking care of the same kids," he said, "so I think it would be in the best interest of the kids and the community to take a look back at our plans to see what they would need in terms of space for things like a kitchen, a play area, a study area, a gym..."

Petermann says currently the Boys and Girls Club is functioning out of a building that is over 70 years old, and the cost of maintenance and upkeep are starting to add up. He says partnering with the school would mean they would be able to run the club much more efficiently.

"We would still have to raise funds to operate, but being in the same building as the school would just allow us to share some things because we're doing a lot of the same things anyway, just at a different time," said Petermann, who says the club continues to grow tremendously.

"In the last seven or eight years we've gone from serving 40 kids to 140," he said, "and that tells us we're doing something right. I think the Boys and Girls Club has a good reputation, they're doing good for the community, and I think people want to see a partnership with the school."

No land

The school district may be asking voters to support a referendum to fund a project that would include a new elementary school, but there's another big issue yet to be settled.

"We've been working on finding the land," said Seaworth, "but if we're going to do this right and do the studies and try to be cost effective about this, we need to be able to also tell the voters where the school would be, otherwise it's going to be pretty hard to sell."

Before announcement of the delay, school leaders had been hoping to put the referendum to a vote by April 23rd, as their eyes remain fixed on the interest rates. They worry the longer they wait, the more interest rates could climb, making the projects that much more expensive.

"But we need to do this right," said Seaworth, who says it's now back in the hands of the architects, who will re-vamp the plan to include the Boys and Girls Club, "so we intentionally left this plan open ended, and we don't want to rush this, but the sooner we can get all of this information out to the voters, the better."

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