It was a day of sadness and hope Friday, as two stalwarts of the Minot Public Schools District were decommissioned under a brilliant, blue sky.
Decommissioning ceremonies were held at Lincoln Elementary School and Erik Ramstad Middle School amid throngs of people and even more balloons. Both schools lost their fight with the Souris River during last year's flood, and while the buildings will soon be gone, they won't be forgotten.
At Lincoln, Mark Vollmer, superintendent of Minot Public Schools, noted Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Souris River flood, which changed Minot forever.
The crowd at Erik Ramstad Middle School releases dozens of balloons into the sky at the end of the building’s decommissioning ceremony Friday. Ramstad opened in 1956 and educated more than 35,000 students.
Children hold tightly to their balloons during Friday’s decommissioning ceremony at Lincoln Elementary School. More than 9,000 students passed through the school’s halls since 1966.
"One year ago today, at 12:57:20 (p.m.), the sirens sounded, the water left the banks of the river, and the flood was imminent," Vollmer said. "Today marks the celebration of a building, Lincoln Elementary School. A building that since 1966 has served as an educational home for over 9,000 students. The hallways of this school are now empty, yet hope remains. Hope for a better tomorrow for Minot Public Schools, hope for a better day, hope for the residents of the valley who continue to rebuild from this tragic event."
Pat Slotsve, principal of Lincoln Elementary, said he had to look up the word "decommission" to see exactly what it meant because he wasn't sure what the ceremony was intended for. He found it meant the retirement of a military naval vessel, and standing outside the shuttered doors of Lincoln, he could relate.
"This building's been through many voyages - one with water. And I look out and I see all of the teachers, staff, students, they've all been part of this building, cornerstones that have kept it together, and kept it together during the waters," Slotsve said. "And we just wanted to take an opportunity to bear it farewell and thank it for its years of service."
Jim Rostad, vice president of the Minot Public School board, said having to decommission the two schools reminded him of when he had to put his old dog to sleep.
"That's about how I'm feeling today. I know we're supposed to be upbeat and no doubt Longfellow and Lewis and Clark (the new schools for Lincoln's students) will be bigger and better than ever. I know we're supposed to look forward, and we will," Rostad said. "But nevertheless, for all who have been affiliated with Lincoln, this is indeed a sad day and that's just how I'm feeling today. We're going to say goodbye to an old friend."
Mayor Curt Zimbleman said Lincoln might look strong from the outside, but appearances can be deceiving.
"When you look at the outside of this building it just doesn't seem like we need to knock it down, does it? But you know, when you get inside we all know what's happened to the inside of it, and certainly we're going to miss it," Zimbleman said. "It's very important to this neighborhood. It's one thing that's going to be missing now as we move over to Longfellow. But it's moving forward. It's something that certainly is difficult."
At the end of the ceremony a moment of silence for the old school was held, then the crowd released a mass of black, yellow and red balloons that floated lazily into the perfect sky, marking the end of Lincoln Elementary.
At Ramstad, Vollmer said the building has served as an educational home for more than 35,000 Minot students since 1956.
Jim Tschetter, principal of Ramstad, said everyone faced a difficult task Friday as the building was decommissioned.
"I've many times said that people move on but buildings stay forever. In this case, that is not true. This building is moving on, and most of the people that this building housed are staying," Tschetter said. "After 55 years, Erik Ramstad Middle School in the valley has finished its mission."
If the building had any flaws, Tschetter said, it was that it was only a stone's throw from the Souris River.
"The loss of this building is felt by many, and it should be. But buildings do not make schools. People make schools," Tschetter said. "The Minot Public Schools team proved that fact this year when in spite of the adversity and the massive losses to infrastructure, we had a very constructive and positive school year."
Zimbleman said while it was only obvious why Lincoln needed to be knocked down once you went inside, Ramstad was a different story.
"This one, Ramstad, it's a lot easier to see inside or outside that this building needs to come down," Zimbleman said. "And it'll be a step back for this area right now, but when we get the new school it will be important for everyone and it'll be a new beginning for Ramstad. So we can look forward to that."
Sen. John Hoeven brought some energy to his remarks and got the crowd hollering and whistling early.
"How's everyone doing today? Good to be in the Magic City! Come on, get lively, we're going to have some fun here at the end of this," Hoeven said. "It is great to be here. Greetings mayor Zimbleman, thank you for allowing us to be in your fine community. Curt said we could come, but he said we had to be out town by sundown."
Hoeven went to Ramstad as a child. He said it was always right there in the neighborhood, and noted how strange it's going to be not having it there anymore.
"I always loved this setting, it really is a beautiful setting. So in a way it's sad to be losing this school which has been part of our community for so long," Hoeven said. "But it really is, when you think about it, wonderful, because we're going to have a brand new school in a community that had a very tough flood, but a community that is as vibrant and strong as any community not just in the state, but in the country."
To wrap up his time at the podium, Hoeven joined along with some of his staff, former school board member Jackie Velk and some students from the audience to sing Ramstad's fight song, which really got the crowd going.
Congressman Rick Berg said schools are ultimately about the next generation, which makes building a new school worth it.
"It's not about what's in it for us right now, it's about educating that next generation. And so to not only go through the work of building a new school, but really making a special dedication here to education," Berg said. "I think it says a lot about what's important to us, and certainly the community here in Minot."
Berg said he remembers being on the Broadway bridge during the flood and seeing not homes, but only rooftops poking above the flood waters.
"I know many of you here today were affected by that, and that's a memory that's never going to leave me," Berg said.
Brenda Foster, a school board member, read a letter from Sen. Kent Conrad, who couldn't be at either ceremony due to previous commitments.
In the letter, Conrad said thousands of Minot children have passed through the halls of both schools, and while it's time to move on, there are good things to look forward to.
"While we must say goodbye to these neighborhood landmarks, we know that better and brighter days are on the horizon," Foster read from the letter. "The plans put forward and quickly enacted by Minot Public Schools will ensure that our students continue to receive the education they have become accustomed to, and in new state-of-the-art facilities."
Vollmer wrapped things up with a final farewell to Ramstad and a moment of silence. The crowd then released a multitude of red and white balloons into the sky. As they drifted into the distance, many probably still heard Vollmer's last words for an old building that educated so many students for so long.
"Friends, today marks the final commission of Erik Ramstad Middle School. After today the building will be retired from the inventory of Minot Public Schools. Erik Ramstad Middle School, you have served our district well," Vollmer said. "Your walls have provided a sanctuary for many students during the past 56 years. The structure of Erik Ramstad Middle School will soon leave this landscape, but the memories of this building will remain with us forever."