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New Lakefield committee keeping tabs on ongoing school decisions

LAKEFIELD — While the second phase of a Jackson County Central community task force formed to research district facilities remains ongoing, Lakefield city leaders remain concerned about the future of the community, particularly as it relates to the fate of its middle school.

During Monday night’s Lakefield City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved creating a Lakefield Community School Committee. The objective of the committee, explained Lakefield Mayor Brian Rossow, is to represent the community as well as actively participate in Lakefield City Council and JCC school board meetings to ensure Lakefield residents’ voices are heard in a “clear, consistent, respectful, and professional message to the school board.”

The committee will include Lakefield City Council representation from council members Brent Pavelko and Andrea Monson. Six to eight core members dedicated to getting firsthand information from the Lakefield City Council meetings and JCC school board meetings will be considered for selection to the committee.

As Monson sees it, a huge objective of the newly formed committee is to ensure that the Lakefield community maintains the location of the district’s middle school.

“We have major concerns that once this stuff starts to move forward and we don’t have that transparency and things are getting done behind closed doors, we won’t be able to stop something,” she said.

A detailed explanation of the committee and the expectations is available on the Brian Rossow, Mayor Facebook page or by contacting the city.

While Rossow imagines the committee being an ongoing effort, he said the idea for the new group was spurred by the recent process and district’s ultimate decision to adopt what it has termed a grade-alike educational structure of the district’s elementary grade levels. That decision, Rossow feels, was despite many speaking in opposition during a well-attended public meeting in Lakefield prior to what eventually became the board’s unanimous vote.

“We as a Lakefield community don’t feel we’re well represented,” he said. “We feel we’ve gotten some false or misleading information from the school board (regarding grade-alike) and don’t feel we’re given the consideration we should be given on how school decisions impact the community.”

The committee is forming as a community task force comprised of district residents from various Jackson County communities continues to evaluate the district’s facilities. That task force was activated in response to an independent evaluation that last spring identified $17.2 million in necessary upgrades across all district campuses. The study recommended the most renovations (119) at the JCC high school in Jackson.

However, the recommended projects (100) at the JCC Middle School in Lakefield were estimated to be the most costly, at $7.5 million. Two public meetings, one at Jackson and one in Lakefield, followed to present the findings to the public and garner reactions and input, JCC Superintendent Todd Meyer said at that time.

Unlike the first phase of task force meetings related to the grade-alike concept that occurred in the fall, the meetings are not currently open to the public, said school board member Eric Kruger, a Lakefield resident and former task force member who’s now a JCC school board member. The decision to close the meetings, he added, was based on the recommendation from Kraus-Anderson, the district’s construction management firm.

“Now the school board members have been instructed in this next phase of facility planning that we are not an integral part of it,” Kruger said, adding that a couple routinely attend to observe and listen, but no quorum is met.

According to task force meeting minutes posted publicly on the district’s website, the meetings have included tours of the district’s various buildings in both communities.

According to task force member and Lakefield resident Chad Janssen, of the seven building options the task force has researched, there are two options that currently are viewed as the most viable. They include:

  1. Riverside Elementary in Jackson facilitating grades pre-kindergarten through third grade, and Pleasantview Elementary in Lakefield grades pre-K and grades four through eight. The high school in Jackson would continue to educate grades nine through 12. Under this option, Janssen added, the current middle school in Lakefield would close and result in a building addition to Pleasantview Elementary in order to accommodate the additional pupils.
  2. Pleasantview Elementary facilitating pre-K through sixth grade and the high school pre-K and seventh through 12th grades. As it stands, this option would close Riverside Elementary in Jackson and the current middle school in Lakefield, leading to construction at both the high school in Jackson and Pleasantview in Lakefield.

He added that the task force is waiting to see numbers associated to each plan from Kraus-Anderson before being able to decide the viability of all the options.

According to task force meeting minutes, each facility option deemed viable is to be presented to the community through a survey.

According to Kruger, the task force is scheduled to provide a recommendation at the board’s March meeting. However, he added, if it doesn’t think that’s feasible, that timeline is “not set in stone by any means.”

Rossow would like to see the process slowed down.

“Considering all the financial, social and community impacts — I think that’s way too quick,” he said if a recommendation would be made next month.

Representing the JCC school board, Kruger came away from Monday night’s Lakefield City Council meeting hearing a common theme.

“The council made it very clear that it is important to them to keep the sixth through eighth grade in Lakefield,” he said.

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