The Perham High School building was the center of discussion in the second special school board meeting in as many months.

Discussion of how to proceed with assessing the building’s condition and needs was facilitated, in part by Pat Overom, from ICS Consulting, Inc., in Mounds View, Minn.

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“A lot of our discussion (in January) was really how we get going,” said Perham-Dent Superintendent Mitch Anderson, during the meeting. “The big question that we left with was how do we get this process going? Who puts it all together, and what’s the starting point?”

Anderson said he contacted other districts that had recently finished a building project, or who were currently building. Several responses, Anderson said, recommended ICS and Overom.

“We do planning and project-related consulting for K-12 schools,” Overom explained of ICS Consulting. “About 95 percent of what we do is K-12 public education in Minnesota. This is what we do.”

“What our goal really is, is to come in and go from now to the end of something with you, as a district,” added Overom. “To develop the appropriate process, make sure that you’ve planned things properly, uncovered all the rocks and done all your research.”

At the time of the meeting, Overom had not yet toured the high school building or done any sort of assessment. Instead, he focused questions in on the school board, to better understand their perceived needs for a building project.

Board members also had questions for Overom, asking how his experience in other districts would relate to working in Perham.

In the past, Overom said, he has brought in people who were generally in disagreement with a project, and then shared every tidbit of information about the district’s growth, needs, finances, etc. “so they became informed.”

“What we wanted to do was make sure we established all the needs and all the criteria that needed to be met by any viable solution option, long before we started developing options,” Overom explained.

Most of the time, he said, problems can be solved in several ways. However, an objective framework of “needs” can help judge the otherwise subjective solutions.

“I would love to get the community involved,” said board member Sue Huebsch, noting she doesn’t think the district’s needs are very defined or quantifiable at the moment. “It’s their future and their building, but we do have a lot of choices, and it’s difficult to assess.”

“Prior to engaging the community or undergoing this, you’d want to make sure you are armed with a lot of that baseline information,” Overom said. “That way, when you get a planning group involved, you can start educating them immediately.”

A lot of the physical assessments can be done by the ICS staff, said Overom. By trade, he is a mechanical engineer and they have other employee specialists as well.

“I think there’s a pretty strong consensus on the board that we need to have strong, strong community involvement in this, if it’s going to go anywhere,” said board chairperson Myron Roe.

“I think our challenge is that we’re kind of at a turning point, potentially,” said Huebsch, noting that they will need to imagine the future of teaching, with technology, while going through the assessment and any design process.

When asked how soon an actual design would be created, Overom said that his company believes that “referendums should be sold on need, not necessarily solution.”

After Overom left, board members continued to discuss the potential benefits of working with a firm similar to ICS.

Board member Cyndy Huber said she was impressed with ICS’s variety of experience.

Anderson said he liked what he’d heard, but would continue to reach out and see if other, similar, groups might be available for comparison. However, he added, it seemed that other districts he’d heard from had gone to an architect, rather than a consultant.

In other news, the board…

-Approved the revised budget, with a deficit just under $449,000. This reflects the pay increase from the teachers’ contract approved in the fall, along with grants and adjustments. The preliminary budget, set in June, had almost a $500,000 deficit.

-Passed a resolution requesting recommendations for possible “reductions in programs and positions” from the administration.