School set to drill well

FAIRMONT – Fairmont Area School Board is moving forward with installing a well on district property in order to water the high school athletic fields.

A quote from I-90 Well Service for $40,500 was approved Tuesday, with expectation that work will begin as soon as possible. Another quote was received from Beemer Companies for $54,442.20.

The board began talking about installing a well this spring on the assumption the coming summer will provide little relief from last year’s drought. The issue quickly became a contentious one, as the city voiced concerns about residents abandoning the municipal water system. A potential ban on private wells was considered briefly by Fairmont Public Utilities Commission.

According to Superintendent Joe Brown, the reason for the well is a matter of student safety.

When a citywide watering ban went into effect last fall, the school’s fields quickly became brown and hard, increasing the likelihood of injury to students running and falling on it.

“It is a huge safety issue,” he said, “and it is not just the football field. It is the physical education classes as well.”

Brown said the district will continue to use city water for everything except watering the softball fields, the football practice field, the football field and the baseball fields.

He expects the well will pay for itself within two years or so. The amount of time for payback is dependent on the weather, since if there is a lot of rain, there would be no need to sprinkle the ground.

“[Drilling a well] will be a savings for us forever,” Brown noted, “which is ultimately a savings for the taxpayer.”

According to school board member Dan Brookens, the district has had good bids on its past projects and managed its money judiciously, so there are enough leftover funds from a recent referendum to pay for the well installation.

Board member Myron Moeller also noted the project includes capping the city lines, so there is no way the city’s water system can be contaminated by the groundwater used to irrigate the fields.

The approved quote includes the use of HDPE piping with directional boring for a 3-inch main to Cardinal Park. Directional boring means there will be less disruption to the field where the pipe is laid.

In other business, the board approved several policy revisions, including changes to academic eligibility for students failing courses at mid-quarter. Students must attend study table, and they cannot participate in any competitions or performances until their grade improvement has been verified.

For one failing grade at the end of the quarter or semester, a student will automatically be ruled ineligible to participate in 10 percent of the season competitions or performances. The student will remain eligible for practices but not allowed to dress in the team uniform, though attendance will be required. The penalties increase with additional failing grades.

The board did make an eligibility exception for students with no more than one failing grade at the end of the quarter, who still retain a C+ average or above for that grading period, with the approval of the academic panel or activities administrator.

For students whose GPA drops below a C+ average, if they have no more than one failing class, their attendance records, daily work histories, disciplinary actions and teacher evaluations will be reviewed to determine eligibility.

“If they have no tardies, they’re in class and they’re still having trouble, I think we should look at their effort,” said board member Nicole Green.

The only other policy that drew discussion Tuesday is a physical education waiver for qualified juniors and seniors. The waiver will only go to students taking a full load of academic classes who are not in a study hall or a teacher’s assistant, or who do not have an honor pass. Students must be participants in at least two Minnesota State High School League sports as a player. A pass/fail grade will given by a head coach.

If students choose to use the waiver in 11th grade but fail to follow the requirement their senior year, they must take the fitness and wellness class their senior year.

Board member Julie Laue was concerned that students who waive physical education will not receive vital information on healthy living, especially important, she believes, because of the country’s obesity epidemic.

Also upset about the waiver are the high school’s two physical education instructors. Only a handful of students will qualify for the waiver but the teachers are worried about the message the district will send to students about the importance of P.E.

The board approved the waivers, with an amendment requiring that students, parents and a school counselor all sign a waiver form.

Also on Tuesday, the board took action on the following items:

o Purchasing a dehumidification system for the main gymnasium at Fairmont Elementary School. A low bid of $39,985 from Harty Mechanical was approved.

o Approved terminating several positions, with the possibility of rehiring some teachers depending on the 2013-2014 budget. Among those whose contracts were not renewed are Emily Labes, Trisha Vlaminck and Robert Sponsel, all probationary teachers; Aaron Oseland, Justin Pfaffinger, Angela Place and Deb Wassman, all long-term substitutes.