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What happens to Dent school when the kids are all gone?

The sounds and sights of children laughing and playing on the Dent school grounds may be preserved--at least partly.

"I live across the street from the school, and I can't imagine not hearing the sounds of kids on the school grounds," said Dent City Council member Cim Melbye.

With the Dent elementary school closing after the current school year, the Dent City Council and Perham school administrators had a brainstorming session Oct. 9.

One of the options for use of the building is child care. Others are envisioning a Dent "community center" for meetings, community ed classes, child and youth programs and alternative education.

"If there is a need for daycare in the Dent area, and there are enough kids to support it, we could start one up within a week," said Superintendent Tamara Uselman, who with school buildings and grounds director Fred Sailer, met with the Dent council.

"A beautiful building" is how Uselman described the Dent school.

It has been well-maintained, and last year underwent extensive heating, ventilation and energy improvements, noted Sailer. Also, civic organizations donated extensively to the playground project.

"We don't want to walk away from the building," said Sailer.

After several rounds of budget cuts over the past two years, the Perham-Dent School Board voted last spring to close the school. Enrollment at the K-4 school was projected to fall from 62 in 2007 to 38 in 2011.

But the board and administration has taken a special interest in transforming the building into a multi-use community center. Sailer himself has strong connections to Dent, as he lived there a number of years, served on the fire department, and one of his children attended the Dent school.

A community meeting space is one idea. There have also been suggestions for an open gym and fitness equipment.

School officials are cautious about competing with existing businesses and institutions. In the case of daycare, there is a definite need in the Dent area, so it wouldn't be a competitive problem.

With a kitchen, gym and other facilities, there are many possibilities. Both Sailer and Uselman stressed the need to think creatively and "outside the box."

"We could also think of it as a public library, with a couple computers," said Sailer.

One use for the building that has been discussed frequently is a satellite Alternative Education Center. Sailer describes Alternative Learning, which is intended for students who learn better in a non-traditional high school setting, as USC--University of Second Chance.

Councilmember Melbye said she was very supportive of ALC programs, and favored the idea of Dent having an ALC. One of her children probably wouldn't have graduated from Perham High School if it wasn't for the ALC.

The school is considering a survey of residents in Dent and the surrounding rural area. The surveys, which will seek input on future plans for the Dent school, will be distributed through churches, the local cafe, the bank and through students at the school.