Twenty years ago my wife and I moved into our newly constructed home. A couple of years ago Kim and I, after too long putting off the problem, found we had some serious maintenance work to do on our house. After getting over the sticker shock as the bids came in, we buckled down, took out a home improvement loan, and had the maintenance work done as well as some improvements that were long overdue. Now our house is in good condition for the next 20 years.
Why did we do it? The answer is obvious: Our family life is centered around our home. Investing in repairs pays off in the value of the property and in our quality of life. It is a smart use of money.
Over the past two years a similar process has been going on with our schools. As a board we were concerned about the long-term condition of our schools. We wanted to get a full understanding what was broken and needed to be repaired, what we needed to update to stay competitive, and how to better organize for efficiency.
With this in mind, we put together a task force of community members, school teachers, principals, and administrators. This task force spent a year going through each school, looking closely at things like aging heating and cooling plants, windows, science classrooms, security and sports facilities. It was a big job, but after many long hours of building walkthroughs and discussion, they came up with a plan that is innovative, smart for the long-term and cost effective.
Why do we feel that it is important to move forward with this plan? The answer is obvious: Our community life is centered around our schools and giving our kids a great education is one of the smartest things we can do. Like a family investing in their home, a community investing in their sons, daughters, and grandchildren’s education pays off in all the right ways. It is a smart use of money.
The list of items that needs to be addressed is long, so over the next couple of months we are going to do the best we can to fill you in on the details through our local media and public meetings. Highlights include:
- Close and demolish the Central Learning Center (CLC). It is too expensive to repair.
- Move the Community Ed, Montessori, and Early Childhood programs currently housed at the CLC to Southwest Junior High School.
- Move all ninth-graders to the high school and add classrooms to support the move.
- Host all the seventh- and eighth-grade classes at Century Junior High School.
- Upgrade and update the High School.
- Keep, but upgrade and update all our elementary schools.
- Repair and update our second-rate sports and arts facilities.
- And critically, improve our building security to keep our kids safe.
To be honest, I have a hard time containing my pride when I think about our students. As diplomas are given out at graduation, the excitement and apprehension in their eyes is the same look you see on their faces on their first day of kindergarten as they wait for their bus. They know they have been given the opportunity to do big things in life. This community gave them that opportunity by building these schools, buying the desks and books and microscopes, and laying the sod for our athletes to run on. It is, and will be, our greatest legacy. So stay tuned as we talk about how — for about 80 cents a day — we can build and maintain this legacy for our next generation.
Rob Raphael is president of the Forest Lake School Board.