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District 518 aims to address its growing pains

WORTHINGTON — The District 518 school board met with administrators Monday afternoon in a work session to discuss the ever-growing student enrollment and its strains on the district’s current facilities.

The group also brainstormed ideas that would benefit both the school district and the community as a whole. Being a work session, no formal decisions were made by the board.

Recent enrollment projections reveal that Worthington High School is anticipated to have 847 students for the 2015-16 school year, 900 for 2016-17 and 891 for the 2017-18 school year. The district compiles the information through a number of sources, including census data and sibling information of current students.

Prairie Elementary is speculated to increase by 57 students starting in the 2015-16 school year with an enrollment of 1,260. That figure will hold steady until 2017-18, when the district anticipates 25 new enrollees.

Meanwhile, Worthington Middle School is also expected to see large growth. In 2015-16, the school will have a projected 886 students; the current enrollment is 839. The number increases to 921 in 2016-17 and to 935 in 2017-18, nearly 100 students above the present amount.

With totals on the rise nearly across the board, the school board has had to make tough decisions on how to best address the needs of the students. Superintendent John Landgaard had the board and administrators participate in an exercise Monday to examine the needs of the district. The group ranked them together in groups that were similar and by level of need.

The task had participants rate the following:

* New high school building

* Soccer complex or fields

* Additional baseball field

* Additional softball field

* New stadium (upgrade or replace Trojan Field)

* District auditorium

* Indoor play space

* Athletic/Activities training space

* Preschool classrooms/space

* Welcome center for students (orientation, induction, develop skills)

* Technology center

* District office (additional space)

* Job Training Center (technical career development)

* Alternative Learning Center (with high school or separate)

* Community Education Center (with high school or separate)

* Gymnastics space

* Hockey arena

A new high school was on the top of the list for the group. With a new building for the high school, students can be shuffled into other buildings to accommodate space needs.

Worthington High School principal Paul Karelis voiced an opinion shared by many. No matter what happens, the West Learning Center needs to be “buried.” The building’s continued dilapidation is a cause of concern for the district.

Several options were discussed for moving the students and community programs currently housed in the property to other locales. For example, administration may be combined into one larger building rather than be split into the district office and West building. Additionally, if a new high school was constructed, the Area Learning Center might make a compatible partner in sharing the new facility. 

While the possibilities are endless, the board is cognizant funding is not. With that in mind, the board discussed a number of ideas in which the district could partner with other entities to benefit both the school and Worthington as a whole. 

For instance, it was reasoned, if a new high school building was constructed, could the county library be attached? Depending on the location, it may be a possibility. In that case, the district might be able to work with Nobles County and private investors to make the vision a reality. 

Landgaard subsequently encouraged the group to consider a new list of collaborative efforts including:

* New high school building

* Sports complex

* County library

* Outdoor pool

* Soccer complex

* Art center

* Historical center

* Hockey arena

* Bike/walking trails expansion

* Community golf course plan

* Active living plan

* Job Training Center (technical careers)

* Welcome center

* Increase of higher education opportunities (education experiences)

* Improving asset of the lake (boat docks, eating place, marina, etc.)

* Auditorium

* Half-cent sales tax

* College housing

* Indoor playground

Sports and educational options topped many of the lists. An all-inclusive sports area offering football, soccer, an outdoor pool and even hockey would be ideal. An art center combined with a welcome center, historical center and library might also offer a good partnership. 

Regardless of the desired plan, money will obviously figure in the decision-making process. One option broached was the notion of pairing with the city on projects wherein the city could impose a half-cent sales tax as a funding source. 

The exercise instructed the board to assume money was not an object. In reality, many ideas would need to be trimmed or eliminated entirely. The board discussed when to present the idea of a new high school to the voters. 

Board president Steve Schnieder said the board would likely not be ready for a referendum prior to spring 2016. If the spring deadline is unattainable, the fall would be likely.

Robin Baumgarn

Robin Baumgarn is a new reporter for the Daily Globe covering the Education and Northwest Iowa beats. Prior to coming to the Globe, she worked for the Ocheyedan Press-Melvin News, a weekly Iowa paper for three years. She is a 2012 graduate of Iowa Lakes Community College and lives in Northwest Iowa with her husband Ryan and three pets, Fidget, Missy and Samwise.

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