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Our View: What’s best for our children?

Why plan for now when you can plan for the future? The recommendation made Monday by DLR Group to the Dickinson Public School Board to build a middle school instead of a high school made at least one board member question the proposal.

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The engineering group, which has worked countless hours with school officials, staff and community members, proposed that the board consider building a complex to accommodate sixth- through eighth-graders and add a section to Prairie Rose Elementary.

Hagen Junior High School would be repurposed and Berg Elementary would go from hosting sixth-graders to being a K-5 facility.

The two big-ticket items — plus a few other amenities — is estimated to cost more than $67 million.

The idea is the district has outgrown Hagen. And yes, the aging building soon needs to be replaced. The first instinct is to build a new middle school. But, at the same time, students at Dickinson High School are also outgrowing their home, so why not spend the money on a new high school?

“Based on the information that we have heard from the staff and the leadership teams, and based on our understanding in working with school systems around the country, there are enormous changes coming with high schools,” DLR consultant Christopher Gibbs told the school board. “What a high school may look like in five or seven years may look very, very different from what you may design if you decide to build right now.

“I think this is the most impactful plan.”

Why? What changes are going to be made? What could be so different with a building that houses middle school or high school students? What is the big difference between the two?

We, as lay people in the education sectors, don’t understand what goes into building a school for the future, but can’t we plan ahead for those changes?

A high school is at the heart of a community. It’s where a town like Dickinson produces bright young men and women for the future. A school is a city’s center of pride. Whatever is built needs to have the ability to attract families to stay in Dickinson. Only a high school can do that. No family will move to a city because it has a shiny, new middle school.

Either way, the school district will need a bond referendum to pay for a new school. Doesn’t it make more sense to look into building a new high school before a middle school?

Will a high school cost more? Absolutely. Hagen houses more than 450 students, a number that grows every day. The high school is at about 820, but will eventually be much bigger if current enrollment trends continue. It’s hard to predict how much those numbers will increase in three years, but it’s becoming apparent that they will increase. The district took on 37 students in March — quite a bit for one month so late in the school year.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state that questions the growth in Dickinson. We understand that the city needs a new middle school. It’s likely most of the educational facilities will need some type of upgrade.

But the high school should take priority over a middle school. It may cost more, but the school board and community should be willing to invest in their children’s future.

That ultimately means investing in a new high school facility — something that can be the crown jewel of the area’s education community — and moving the middle school students to the old high school. It worked before. Why can’t it work again?

If the district thinks there will be changes — of course there will — budget for them. The building won’t open until late 2017, at the earliest. There’s no reason to not plan ahead.

According to board member Tanya Rude, the residents think a high school would be more logical, and we agree. It makes more sense to spend a little more money for a facility that will be the star of the community.

The board needs to take a long, hard look all the options and decide not what is the easiest, less expensive route, but what will best serve the needs of Dickinson’s children in the long run.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock, Managing Editor Dustin Monke and Assistant Editor April Baumgarten.