Can DPS use its other properties to alleviate crowding?

Hagen Junior High School, prior to the new middle school being built. (Stock photo)

Throughout the planning to alleviate the overcrowding in Dickinson High School, the district has been asked about options that don't include building a new school, one of which includes using the old Hagen Junior High School.

The capacity of Hagen

While Hagan is not big enough to house all of the students from DHS, the district administration have considered moving a grade to the building. Superintendent Shon Hocker estimates that the school could hold approximately 300-400 students.

Estimating a school's capacity isn't the same as estimating the capacity of other buildings, and the fire marshal doesn't have that number recorded.

"It really depends on the programming, scheduling and space utilization. That's what determines the amount of students you can put in there. It's not necessarily occupancy based on square foot," said Marc Mellmer, vice president of JE Dunn.


Assuming the school could fit 350 students, it would be large enough to support one grade level. Currently, DHS' enrollment sits at 1,039 with 277 9th graders, 277 10th graders, 239 11th graders and 232 12th graders.

However, with the district's estimate growth rate of 5%, the solution would be temporary.

"If you look at our growth enrollment projections, we felt like we were somewhere in that 12-14 range before that high school even at 1,600 was going to need to have another conversation," Hocker said. "We know we’re going to be pushing 400 kids in each grade level at that time. If we’re estimating that Hagen can only hold about 350 kids, we’re clearly going to hit that mark before we hit that mark that we were targeting at the high school."

Costs to renovate the building

If the district did decide to relocate a grade level to Hagen, Hocker said the building would need some remodeling to make it suitable for high schoolers, as high school curriculum requires different spaces than a middle school. For example, the science labs would have to be renovated. He mentioned possibly painting and re-carpeting, as well as working on the security of the building.

Mellmer said that whether or not they would also have to bring the building up to current code would depend on a lot of factors including the cost of renovation and how many square feet you're going to renovate.

Hocker is estimating $15 million.

"We just did Berg … That’s a school for 200 kids, and we spent $7 million to do that, and we’re still essentially not done," he said. " ... That building is twice as big as the Berg building, so it’s not out of the question to think it’s twice as much money as what we spent at Berg, so that puts me at the $15 million ... Knowing that it’s only a 10 year-ish fix, we begin to ask the question, is that worth it?"


The district hasn't asked for JE Dunn to estimate renovation costs for Hagen, though Hocker said JE Dunn had offered.

"They’ve asked, ‘Do you want us to do that,’ and I’m sure they would do it if we asked, but I have said, ‘I don’t feel good about having you do all this pro-bono work,’ he said.

Challenges of dividing a school

"There are districts like Minot down the road who choose to have still essentially one high school, but they have three buildings that form that high school, so they don’t have all kids in one building … We certainly have looked at that with Hagen," Hocker said.

Minot Public Schools Superintendent Mark Vollmer said their district houses its 2,100 high school students in three separate buildings: the alternative school, the central campus, which houses 9th and 10th grade and the Magic City Campus, which houses 11th and 12th grade.

Central was the original high school. When it became overcrowded, the district built Magic City.

"It is a very rare concept, and it is not widely used in the United States," Vollmer said.

It's not without its challenges, which include busing students from one campus to another.


"Having certain classes in one building, it does limit extracurricular activities. It limits elective classes that a student might take," he said.

Having the high school divided in half isn't ideal for building school unity.

"When you have a child under one roof, and they work with the same counselor for four years, and they have the same principal for four years ... after a period of time, those relationships develop, and it works better than a constant transition in and out," he said "That's been the biggest struggle with it. That being said, Minot has been pretty successful with the model for ... 46 years."

Moving services out of Hagen

Apart from the school buildings and their respective parking lots and fields, Dickinson Public Schools owns the bus depot, central administration building, Hagen, 336 5th Street West and the Professional Learning Lab, according to the City of Dickinson.

The building across from Hagen at 336 5th Street West, which is sectioned off into four parts, used to house the Dickinson Adult Learning Center, West Dakota Parent Resource Center, Partners in Parenting and Family-Educator Enhancement Team.

Those programs were moved into the Hagen building due to capacity issues. As previously reported by The Press, the adult education center had students in one classroom, regardless of the level of their language skills. In its current building, they have four classes, so they can divide their students by levels.

The Hagen building currently houses the food pantry, alternative school, adult learning center, RASP after school program, West Dakota Parent Resource Center, Partners in Parenting, the administration's technology department and various district offices including the school psychologists - many of which would not fit into the Fifth Street building.

Since these are district programs, Hocker said the district would have to purchase space elsewhere for them, and then all of the district's programs would no longer be in a central location.

Hagen is also occasionally used for projects that require larger spaces that the high school cannot accommodate, such as its escape room projects.

The Professional Learning Lab once housed the alternative school, but since its enrollment has also grown, it faced capacity issues before the school was relocated to Hagen. It is now used daily for district meetings, free community meetings, training and small events, according to Sarah Trustem, community relations coordinator for the district.

According to Trustem, the district has been considering using the old Fifth Street building as employee housing, but would have to remove its property from the garage on site, which it currently uses as extra storage.

Bottom Line

While the district is evaluating all its options, Hocker believes it's more cost-effective to think of long-term solutions rather than short-term solutions, and he sees using Hagen to alleviate crowding as a temporary solution.

"We believe that our taxpayers want to make sure that we’re being fiscally responsible for every dollar that we’re spending ... By being short-sighted and planning for five and ten year scenarios instead of 30 and 40 and 50 year scenarios, I don’t think we’re meeting that obligation to the best of our ability," Hocker said.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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