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Is a new high school in the foreseeable future?

The Perham-Dent School Board is taking its first small step toward a change that would be a giant leap for the community – a new high school.

During a special meeting last Wednesday, school board members held a lengthy discussion about the possibility of constructing a new high school facility in the foreseeable future. Ultimately, they voted to move forward with contacting outside sources, such as the Minnesota School Boards Association, for advice on how to proceed.

They did not specify the specific course of action they intend to follow, though they did agree not to spend any district money on this pursuit at this time.

Some board members said they thought the public should be included in every step of the process. Others took the stance that more information should be gathered first, including a fresh assessment on the current high school facility.

“We need to have something to take to the public first,” said board member Sue Von Ruden. “We need to be educated so we can educate.”

Throughout the meeting, board members referred to a study that was done more than 10 years ago, when the new ventilation system was to be installed in the high school. At that time, the assessment determined that the building would be worth maintaining for another 15 to 20 years.

A new assessment would be needed to get a more accurate idea of the school building’s potential problems and to provide an updated lifespan estimate.

“There are some real weaknesses in this building that I was not aware of until we took the tours,” said board member Sue Huebsch, who recently toured the high school as a member of the Facilities Committee.

Superintendent Mitch Anderson detailed some specific building concerns in a follow-up telephone interview with the Focus.

Original plumbing and electric wiring still run through part of the high school, he said. The main, three-story portion of the building is nearly 100 years old. Over the years, gunk and grime have collected and hardened like cement in some pipes, and now there are 4-inch pipes that have only the space of a quarter for water and waste to flow though. 

“It’s more than the visible aspects, it’s the guts of the building,” he said.

A fresh assessment could help determine whether the cost of updating the school, guts and all, would be worthwhile, or if it would be more cost effective to build a new facility altogether.

If a new facility turned out to be the best option, Anderson pointed out at the meeting that the district already owns a large triangle of land along Coney Street and Ninth Street S.W., which he said could make a smart location for a new building.

Using this 24 acres would have another potential benefit over starting over at the school’s current location: “This space is always going to be landlocked,” said Huebsch. “There’s no place to go here or anywhere to park. Parking itself has been a huge issue for a long time. That’s one of the downsides of doing something here... There’s not an inch of space to go, anywhere.”