• Central high school would also see better security
by Jim Boyle
As part of the $98 million bond referendum being put to District 728 voters this fall, Elk River High School could be expanded to include more gym space and greater security if voters pass the bond issue and its associated operating levy.
Elk River High School, unlike high schools in Zimmerman and Rogers, has nearly all of its facility needs being met. It has all the shop space it needs, two auditoriums, ample parking, and all the science space and classroom space it needs within its concrete walls.
One notable exception has been enough gym space to handle the school’s and community’s needs. The referendum will address that need.
The Elk River Area School District has, however, stopped short of adding a full-fledged field house that could attract larger tournaments and serve as a bigger venue.
“We’ll take all the court space we can get,” said Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal.
Having an additional two or three gym stations during the day and after school will help the school tremendously as well as the community that uses the facility in the evenings and weekends, Bizal said.
And when the winter season drags on like it has the past two years, spring sports teams will welcome additional space, too, Bizal added.
A fieldhouse like the one at Rogers High School has been considered for years, and there was even talk of a partnership between Elk River High School and the city of Elk River to improve athletic facilities between the school and the city’s ice arenas. Those plans never materialized.
A district-administered survey showed interest in a host of projects, but a fieldhouse and synthetic turf both got thumbs-down and were not included in the final bond referendum package to go before the voters.
Bizal said a fieldhouse would be nice to have but the way the school is boxed in with the wetlands and the ice arenas it would have presented some challenges, including the impact to the flow of traffic around the school building.
Greg Hein, the executive director of business services for the Elk River Area School District, said the cost of a fieldhouse would have been $16.6 million alone and the school district will be able address much more than the need for more gym space for $1 million less.
Having a more secure school has been a goal of Hein’s ever since he stepped into Elk River High School without being greeted and wondering where the administrative offices were.
“I think Elk River High School was the first school I visited when I came to the Elk River district,” he recalled. “I entered the school and I wasn’t sure where I was going and no one stopped me to ask where I was going.”
The first step toward a more secure school took place last week with the removal of six temporary classrooms that were installed behind the high school in 2000. Between the stabilization of enrollment at Elk River High School and cuts to the teaching staff, the 14-year-old portable classrooms are no longer needed.
Bizal said they served a purpose but the structures void of running water and toilets will not be missed. He said they have been a maintenance and security nightmare. The school has had to devise systems with badges for students to try to regulate the flow of students in and out of the school, but there’s no simple, effective solution, he said.
Another troublesome fact was that teachers couldn’t step outside to have a conversation with a colleague. Their colleagues were in the school and not readily available.
Having a series of budgets reduced over the past few years has freed classrooms in the building and the student population has stabilized. There’s expected to be between 1,680 to 1,750 students in the school for the next five years.
Portable classrooms located elsewhere in the district will be moved out under the terms of the referendum proposal, too, but not until more space is added. They are still needed until then, Hein said.
The portables at Elk River High School were not suitable for interactive white boards, used in classrooms to help engage students in lessons. Because the floors moved when people walked on them, there was not a way to install them and have them work properly.
Having students coming and going posed a security threat, administrators said.
With their removal, the high school will also gain 85 parking spaces.
If the referendum passes, security will be bolstered again by having the space for the DECA program and the administrative offices remodeled so they can trade places. With the administrative offices out front, there will be a more secured entrance and greater awareness of who is coming and going.
By moving the attendance office out front, security was improved at the beginning of the past school year.
“The district has stepped up to provide as much security as is reasonable,” Bizal said. “The changes so far have been effective, and having the offices out front will help even more.”