To a large crowd of neighbors and well-wishers, Superintendent Terry Brenner forecasts “a learning environment that will be second to none”

GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks north end neighborhood will be home to a brand new Valley Middle School in about 18 months.

Officials broke ground for the $55 million, two-story school building on Wednesday afternoon, April 10, in a space just west of the current school.

“It’s long overdue,” said Walt Knipe, who watched the groundbreaking ceremony. He has lived in the neighborhood since the late 1940s and retired after a 35-year career teaching at South Middle School and Red River and Grand Forks Central high schools. He also coached at Valley Middle School and Grand Forks Central.

“It’s great for the community,” Knipe said.

The area where the new school will be built has been used as the school’s athletic field. After the old building is razed, the athletic field will occupy that area. Trees to the west of the current athletic fields that border University Park will be preserved, officials have said.

It is expected that the roughly 90,000-square-foot structure will be completed in late 2025. Whether it will be ready for occupancy in January 2026 “will depend on if it is ready and if we have the manpower to make that move at that point,” said Jonathan Ellwein, director of buildings and grounds for Grand Forks Public Schools.

Bids for the structure came in under budget, allowing planners “to add more room (in the school), especially in the gym,” Ellwein said.

“We hit a very good bidding point,” he said. “We kind of hit a sweet spot where just about everything came in lower than expected.”

Ellwein attributed that, in part, to building contractors not having a full slate of projects.

Kyle Kvamme, director of community engagement and project development with ICON and a Grand Forks City Council member, echoed that good news, noting that bids initially came in $6 million under budget and the central kitchen came in $700,000 under budget.

“We were able to add things back in that we thought we had to cut,” Kvamme said. “All of them are student spaces.”

ICON Architects are providing the architectural services, along with their architect partner, the Cunningham Group, based in Minneapolis. The Construction Engineers firm, the “construction managers at risk,” or CMAR, will build the school. During the groundbreaking ceremony, Allie Stevens, project manager and architect with ICON, said the project “has been such a joy for us,” and thanked members of the community engagement group and school staff who met with and provided input for the architects.

The special features of the new building include a commons area, which will serve as a gathering space, and a design that offers “a neighborhood type of environment for each team to learn and collaborate,” Stevens said.

The new school will be “a safe and modern building with a secure and accessible main entrance,” she said.

Voter approval

The project was approved by voters in a referendum in May 2023. The referendum, totalling $79 million, also included funds for security upgrades in school buildings throughout the district and a new district-wide central kitchen facility to be relocated from Valley Middle School to the Mark Sanford Education Center.

The referendum passed with a supermajority, 65% of the 4,481 votes cast; the measure needed 60% in favor to pass.

In remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony, Superintendent Terry Brenner recalled lessons learned from the 2020-21 referendum when voters rejected the K-8 school model proposed for the north side.

The new school, “I believe, will add value to our historic northside neighborhood,” Brenner told the crowd, noting that “shovels in the ground means you’re one step closer to a learning environment that will be second to none.”

Former Valley Middle School student Ryaan Alshami, now a senior at Grand Forks Central, said “Valley Pride is something that can’t be torn down.”

He recalled his memories of the school and the close relationships he formed with teachers and “two best friends who are like brothers to me.”

Also during the ceremony, Grand Forks School Board President Amber Flynn said, “For too long the north end has been underserved, overlooked and underrepresented.

“To the parents, your children deserve the best education possible regardless of zip code or socio-economic status.”

Valley Middle School’s new principal also addressed the crowd.

“All ties seem to lead to the north end – to north end pride,” said Theodore (“Tad” ) Schye, who is serving his first year as principal. “That resonates with me.”

“We have done great things,” he said, “and now it’s time to move on to do great things in a new building.”

After the ceremony, Schye told the Herald, “It’s exciting. The fencing is going up on Monday.”

At 70 years old, Valley Middle School is plagued with numerous infrastructure-related deficits,Brenner has said.

The school is obsolete from an instructional standpoint, Brenner told the Herald in spring 2023. Its design reflects “an educational factory model where we would move 30 kids from room to room around specific content,” he said. “That’s not the model of how kids learn today.”