District 518 hosts meeting on facilities needs

WORTHINGTON -- About 50 people gathered Monday night in the brand-new Worthington High School band room for a public input meeting on the facilities needs of Independent School District 518.

Worthington High School Principal Josh Noble (from left) stands with Student Council representatives who gave tours of the new WHS addition Monday prior to a public input meeting on district needs. Also shown are Student Council Co-Advisor Emily Cowan, Brittin Fauskee, Rachel Koller and Nathan Schuck. Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON - About 50 people gathered Monday night in the brand-new Worthington High School band room for a public input meeting on the facilities needs of Independent School District 518.

The meeting featured a presentation by Pat Overom of ICS Consulting, Blaine, who spoke to the public about a combination of relevant statistical data and gave an overview of a variety of district needs. The District 518 board has determined that a new high school should be presented to the voters of the district to help address a trend of growing enrollment, but Overom highlighted numerous other potential additions and improvements that he asked attendees of the meeting to address in a handed-out survey.
Enrollment figures over the years were presented in the early portion of Monday’s meeting and showed some fluctuation in both directions. The number of students in District 518 totaled 2,912 in 1996, but then declined to 2,395 in 2001 and 2,057 in 2007. They’ve shot back up since - 2,843 students were enrolled in District 518 schools in 2014, and 3,094 for 2016 --- and projections indicate 3,257 students for 2019 and 3,824 students for 2025.
Fortunately for the district, Overom said, the board has been prudent in its fiscal management.
“To be in the financial stability that you’re in is a testimony to the board and the decisions you’ve made in the past,” he said.
A review of district needs identified as school board priorities included a new high school, a new job training center, a new (or refurbished) stadium, a new Alternative Learning Center, a soccer complex and a Community Education Center.

The composite list of needs for District 518 includes: a new high school facility; a soccer complex or fields; an additional baseball field; an additional softball field; a new or refurbished stadium; a district auditorium; indoor playground space; athletic/activities training space; preschool classroom space; a welcome center; a technology center; district office (change/additional space); job training center (technical and career development space); Alternative Learning Center (at high school facility or separate); Community Education Center (attached to another facility or separate); gymnastics space; a hockey arena; Trojan Field turf replacement; Anderson parking lot paving; Trojan Field alley and parking lot paving; replace/repair walk bridge at Trojan Field; Middle School parking lot paving/athletic lot; and expansion of parking at Prairie Elementary.
Overom said district representatives have met in input work sessions with officials from the city of Worthington, Nobles County, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp., Blandin Group and the Center for Active Living. A common theme from those meetings was that a new high school facility ranks as a high priority, and the exploration of collaboration for sports/activity venues, workforce development and other areas was also frequently discussed.
John Weitgenant of Worthington raised multiple questions and points of interest during the 35-minute meeting. He suggested teaming with Minnesota West on athletics and activities space, and also inquired about whether room remained for further construction on the high school grounds.
“Anything major would be extremely difficult and not happen there,” Overom said.
Weitgenant also asked about the possibility of building on the current Trojan Field (that wasn’t ruled out) and stressed that JBS - the city’s largest employer - is an important part of the district’s future.
“I think there is some kind of responsibility… for JBS to make a commitment to stay in this community,” Weitgenant said, “so we don’t do something foolish.”
“There is no way that the plant in the foreseeable future is going to be shut down,” replied District 518 board member Linden Olson, who hailed the Worthington JBS facility as “the most efficient pork plant in the United States.”
Another meeting attendee asked if a new, long-discussed sports complex remained in the works.
“The first thing is for the school board to wrestle with the boulder, if you will,” Overom said, implying that the boulder represented the largest foreseen need at the time --- a new high school building.
A question about what activities take up space in the district’s schools was also answered.
“There’s technology, Title IX and the evolution of programs and services,” Overom said. “What were core offerings back (years ago) is night and day compared to core class offerings today.”
All district residents are welcome to obtain surveys to complete and return. District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said the surveys aren’t online yet, but will be eventually.

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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