WDC contemplates its next moves
District 2155 has hired a Minneapolis law firm to help it navigate the uncharted waters it is approaching.
The June 17 tornado that struck Wadena left the Wadena-Deer Creek High School in ruins. In the aftermath, Riverport Insurance Services is preparing a report for WDC superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom and the school board which will determine the fate of the present building. Dahlstrom has been promised that report by July 7.
Rebuilding WDC, either from scratch or from the structure that remains, will mean a swing of many millions of dollars. That is where Jim Stromman of Kennedy and Graven comes into the picture. Stromman's job is to advise school officials on how to handle the daunting task before them. The former teacher and University of Minnesota Law School graduate has represented both cities and school districts in "matters from A-Z involving construction."
One of Stromman's first recommendations at Monday's school board meeting was to hire an architectural firm to prepare a structural report to balance the insurance company's report -- in effect, offer a second opinion. The school's insurance carrier is not obligated to cover the expense of an independent study but some of the cost for a second opinion could be funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I think the first role of your team would be a check and balance of insurance," Stromman said. The question of building materials would also be an issue which an independent firm could help settle.
"Hopefully when you do it right from the beginning you don't have to get into a litigation matter," Stromman said.
The two reports can then be used to arrive at a final decision and a proper amount for reimbursement. Once the insurance company submits its report, "they are going to turn in their number and move onto the next project," Stromman said.
When WDC was opened in 1965, it was built for a student population of 900. Since that time, the student population in grades 7-12, which use the high school, has dropped to 500, WDC secondary principal Tyler Church said.
What size and shape a new or remodeled high school will take has to be determined in the weeks ahead. School board member Dan Toedter has already gone on record as stating he would like to see the rebuilding effort done right, even if it requires more time.
There are also questions about a possible alliance with the city of Wadena in building a school that would be linked to new community center and would include a hockey arena and an indoor swimming pool. The Wadena Area Community Center was completely destroyed by the tornado and the outdoor municipal pool also sustained heavy damage.
The most immediate task before the school board is finding suitable facilities and providing services for the 1,000 students in district. Facilities at M State-Wadena and St. Ann's Catholic Church will be used. The WDC Elementary School will also be used. At this point, WDC kindergarteners and first graders will be using classrooms in the former St. Ann's Catholic School, grades 2-8 will use the facilities at Wadena Elementary and grades 9-12 will attend M State-Wadena.
The idea of using facilities at the Deer Creek school has been ruled out. About one-third of the Deer Creek school is rented out.
"We do have options, I feel very fortunate to have options," Dahlstrom said.
Servers containing financial information, payroll, personnel and student records have been rescued by technology coordinator Aaron Johnson. The school had backups containing server information at WDC Elementary, but recovering the original servers has been a huge timesaver.
"It wouldn't have been 100 percent necessary, but it has saved me about three weeks of work," Johnson said.
The district had 22 school buses before the tornado but only five are still in working order. At this point, the district is considering replacing 17 buses with new or used units. The idea of having a couple of smaller buses, which the district did not have, has also been discussed, according to business manager Jerry Anderson.
The shifting of school facilities has created some uneasiness for members of the WDC support staff regarding their job status for the upcoming school year. The school board indicated that it felt the present support staff will be needed and that more staff could be required.