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Cognizant sells buildings to Minot Public Schools for second high school

Andrea Johnson/MDN Cognizant has sold its two office buildings and surrounding land to the Minot Public School District for the nominal fee of $10. The building, pictured on Friday afternoon, is located at 2000 21st Avenue NW.

Cognizant has agreed to sell its two office buildings and surrounding land at 2000 21st Avenue NW to the Minot Public School District for the nominal fee of $10.

The school board gave unanimous approval to the agreement and for the school superintendent to continue to negotiate the closing of the agreement, which should come in about 30 days.

School superintendent Mark Vollmer told the board it would be a perfect site for the second 9-12 high school that has been contemplated since 2013. According to the district, there are 3,635 students enrolled in grades 6-12. Jim Hill Middle School is expected to be nearly 140 students over its capacity this fall and has installed portable classrooms on the grounds. Erik Ramstad Middle School is also expected to be over capacity this year.

The main building is a steel-framed construction with about 115,000 square feet of open construction on a 38-acre campus and has a parking lot with more than 600 parking spaces. Business manager Scott Moum told the board that the property has an assessed value of $14.5 million, considerably less than it would cost to build a new high school. It has roughly half the amount of space that would be needed for a second high school and would have to be added on to. A second office building is about 7,500 square feet, currently leased by Voya Financial, and could be used for special programming, according to the Minot Public Schools.

Board members have had ongoing discussions about the need for more space to accommodate the middle and high school grades. Voters passed a bond issue in April 2014 that paid for construction of the new John Hoeven Elementary, additions at Perkett and Edison Elementaries, and school safety measures, but left the issue of middle and high school construction for later. Minot High School – Magic City Campus currently has grades 11 and 12 and Minot High School – Central Campus has grades 9 and 10. Ramstad, Jim Hill and Memorial Middle School at Minot Air Force Base have grades 6-8.

In 2013, voters had rejected a more expensive plan than the one that was ultimately approved a few months later. That proposal would have called for construction of a new 9-12 high school, converting Magic City Campus into a 9-12 high school, and turning Central Campus into a middle school, in addition to the construction at the elementary level. Jim Rostad said the proposal to turn Central Campus into a third in-town middle school is still solid.

Vollmer expressed the district’s gratitude for the “beautiful facility” which is in the right part of town for a second high school. Vollmer also said educators believe that two 9-12 high schools would be good for students because it would allow them to work with the same teachers, counselors and principals throughout high school and provide more consistency in programming.

“This is a potential game changer for us,” Vollmer told the board on Friday and added that sometimes he can’t believe it is true.

Board members also expressed their delight. Board member Miranda Schuler called the agreement a shining example of what can happen when public and private entities work together for the good of the community. Board members Jim Rostad and Laura Mihalick echoed the sentiments.

Mihalick cautioned that a second high school won’t be built overnight.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cognizant would exit the property by December 2021. It will maintain some of its operations at the location until then and will pay a pro rata share of the facility operating expenses back to the district, according to a press release. Voya Financial’s current lease on the second building on the site will run through August 2021. Voya Financial has the option to extend the lease for another year until August 2022.

About 150 people currently work in a building which once had over 1,100 employees working there. According to the Cognizant press release, employees provide customer service, mailroom operations, and claims processing for insurance, life sciences, and healthcare clients. Employees based in Minot will continue to provide services for clients remotely or via alternative approaches, according to the press release.

“We are delighted that our offer to donate the facility to the Minot Public School District was accepted,” said Michelle Bacon, Minot Site Lead at Cognizant, in the press release. “We explored several options in determining the site’s future, and we’re excited that the community will benefit from use of the property, particularly in the capacity of contributing to educational opportunities for our local students.

“”We are extremely pleased to see the Minot Public School District vote in favor of Cognizant’s very generous donation,” said L. John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce.” Having a second local high school will open more avenues for educational growth for Minot’s youth and serve as an important driver of activity and economic growth for the region. We appreciate Cognizant making this contribution to the community.”

As part of the deal, Cognizant wants a sign installed outside or inside the building acknowledging its gift to the school district.

The Minot Public School Board also accepted the results of the school board election earlier this month. Incumbent Jim Rostad was re-elected and retired teachers Mike Gessner and Bonny Berryman were elected to the board for the first time, defeating incumbents Mitch Kraft and Mark Lyman. The new board members will take their seats at the July board meeting.

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