Facilities committee reviews numbers regarding future growth
By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN - With enrollment numbers steadily increasing, the Dassel-Cokato School District turned to a demographer to help better predict what lies ahead for its current facilities.
A facilities committee was formed for the purpose of examining the status of current facilities including the condition and maintenance costs, as well as trying to understand the demographics of the district and how to cope with them in the next 10 years.
Superintendent Jeff Powers calls it “future planning” in which the committee will then come to the board with recommendations for possible changes to the current facilities.
Professional demographer Hazel Reinhardt reported results from a recent study of the district’s demographics.
Reinhardt comes with a list of credentials, having been a state demographer working with the census. She has been a private contractor for 18 years, working with 90 school districts in the state.
She uses two different methodologies for predicting future enrollment including the cohort survival method and the housing unit method.
“Demographics are an educated estimate,” Powers said, explaining it’s not an exact science and there are many variables.
Using Oct. 1, 2008 enrollment numbers of 2,341 (numbers do not include Area Learning Center or pre-kindergarten) and the two methodologies, total enrollment for 2018-19 would range between 2,796 and 2,915.
For Powers, the numbers were surprising.
“I am concerned with them,” he said, noting enrollment according to the study is expected to jump as much as 574 students in 10 years.
Reinhardt gave the following explanation for the large numbers.
With improvements to Highway 12, the district is likely to experience more growth, she said, especially with lower gas prices and cheaper housing.
Also, as the number of students per grade changes and kindergarten classes are larger than the previous year’s grade 12, enrollment will increase more rapidly than in the past, Reinhardt said.
The current kindergarten class was 190 as of Oct. 1, and the senior class was 167.
Open enrollment is also a factor, with more students entering the district than going out.
In 2007-08 for example, 255 students open enrolled to DC, while 94 district residents attended other districts.
Open enrollment accounted for 10.9 percent of the student population, with the average in the state being 4.6 percent.
According to her report, open enrollment to DC is higher than typical, and open enrollment out is more in line with the state average.
School Board Chairman and Facilities Committee member Kevin Dahlman asked Reinhardt what variables would most likely skew the numbers, to which she replied, “if there were no development at all.”
Despite enrollment numbers having only grown by nearly 100 students from 1999 to 2000, Middle School Principal Gary Johnson feels the numbers Reinhardt has projected are “dead on” and feels confident about them considering her credentials and experience.
The Dassel-Cokato School District has done two previous demographic studies one in 1988, which came out a little lower than predicted, and the other in 1995, which proved to be too high, according to Powers.
For now, Powers wants to make sure the numbers he gave the demographer are correct.
“We don’t know they’re not, but I want to spend more time verifying that they are,” Powers said.
“It’s a big responsibility for us and we have to be accurate,” he said.
The next step is meeting with the architect, Paul Youngquist from the architectural firm out of St. Louis Park that worked on the Performing Arts Center addition.
Having already toured the facilities, Youngquist will meet with the facilities committee in April with details of his findings and areas of need, according to Powers.
At that time, Youngquist will put together some options for the district in regard to remodeling, additions, or any other building projects.
After this part of the process, the committee will bring its recommendations to the board, most likely in June, Powers explained.
Dahlman was also surprised with the findings, but doesn’t want to overreact.
“We’re going to continue to study the data and test the validity and assess accordingly,” Dahlman said.
“A lot can happen between now and 2018 . . . but we’re trying to be forward thinkers,” he said.
Dahlman also said there are many options to adjust for a growing population such as reconfiguring existing buildings.
“Building brick and mortar isn’t the only option,” he said.
The facilities committee consists of Cokato Elementary Principal Lorene Force, Dassel Elementary Principal Rob Nudell, High School Principal Dean Jennissen, Middle School Principal Gary Johnson, board members Kevin Bjork, Richard Tormanen, and Kevin Dahlman, Activities and Community Education Director Perry Thinesen, Building and Grounds Supervisor John Martinson, Business Manager Tina Palmer, Superintendent Jeff Powers, and community members Elayne Teorey of Cokato, Cary Linder of Cokato, and Terry O’Brien Dassel.
The committee was created as part of a goal set through the board’s strategic planning process.