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Supt. Vollmer remembers flood of 2011

Erik Ramstad Middle School

The Souris River flood of 2011 lives on in the memories of Minot residents for the devastastion it wrought but also the can do attitude that was displayed by the community’s residents, particularly by teachers and students.

“It was such an incredible time of uncertainty,” said Superintendent Mark Vollmer, who had only been hired as the superintedent in February 2011 after years as principal at Magic City Campus and was set to take his post the following July.

Unwelcome event after unwelcome event followed, with a heavy rain over the Memorial Day weekend, then more rain.

The waters rose, the valley flooded, and with it came damaged or destroyed school buildings and questions about when or if classes could resume that fall.

Vollmer said he remembered that the district constructed dikes around school buildings in the flood zone at the end of May and beginning of June that year.

Perkett Elementary

By the time the waters receded, the old Erik Ramstad Middle School building and Lincoln Elementary had been destroyed anyway but Perkett Elementary survived. Other elementaries in the flood zone, including McKinley and Roosevelt Elementaries were severely damaged.

“Every building in the valley was impacted,” said Vollmer.

The district rallied and made arrangements for temporary school facilities so classes started only a about a week late that fall. Ramstad Middle School students attended classes in portable buildings located outside the Minot Municipal Auditorium. Other classes were held in other schools, some in portable classrooms, or in a church.

“I’m very proud of the fact that every child in the district had a desk to sit in that first day,” said Vollmer.

Vollmer said he was also struck by how people got to work to make things better and their ‘stick to itness’ attitude.

He remembers going out for a walk behind the library and talking to an elderly woman who was standing on the railroad bridge watching the water spilling out. She told him, ‘I wish we could get this water out right now so I could get out and start working on my house.’ ”

The flood caused a lot of damage, but Vollmer said some good came out of it too, in the way different community agencies and government entities began to work together and formed strong partnerships to benefit the whole community. Through crisis came opportunity, said Vollmer, and new ways of looking at how the school district delivers education. The lessons learned then served educators well when they were asked to grapple with how to educate kids nearly a decade later during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Vollmer said educators have always kept their eye on the most important thing, which is how to educate kids.

“We can work to thrive or we can just wait for things to happen to us,” said Vollmer.

During this year of the pandemic, Minot Public Schools was the only large school district in the state that offered face-to-face classes throughout, beginning on the first day of school last fall Some teachers and students have been out of classes due to quarantine requirements but school remained in session. Focus groups were held to give parents, teachers, and students a voice in what they wanted to see happen.

Other ongoing projects also began and are ongoing in the aftermath of the flood.

After the flood, a new Erik Ramstad Middle School was built in a new location in north Minot to replace the school that had been engulfed by the flood waters and a new addition was built at Longfellow Elementary to replace Lincoln Elementary, which had also been damaged beyond repair. Ramstad was built larger than the original middle school to accommodate what school board members anticipated would be larger class sizes in coming years. Vollmer said both Ramstad and Jim Hill Middle Schools are now over capacity, which is why the school board is pondering the need for more building to accommodate the needs at the middle school and high school levels.

The total flood damage done was about $70 million. FEMA paid most and the district matched 3 percent, said Vollmer.

A bond issue passed in 2014 paid for the construction of the new John Hoeven Elementary in southeast Minot and additions at Edison and Perkett Elementaries, which largely addressed overcrowding at the elementary level. Another bond issue would have to be approved to address overcrowding at the middle school and high school levels.

Minot school board members voted at a meeting in early April to hire Ackerman-Estvold of Minot, teaming with LSE Architects from Minneapolis, to develop a comprehensive plan for the use of the school district’s properties moving forward. There is no guarantee that the district will move forward with any building projects but, among other things, the district wants a proposal on how to convert a former Cognizant property into a second high school for the district. The district purchased the northwest Minot property for the nominal fee of $10. The architectural firms will also be asked to look at how the district can put to use 70 acres south and east of the new Ramstad that was donated to the district by Northern Lights Idlewild, LLC for the nominal free of $1.

Also on the list of properties that need a new purpose is the site of the former Erik Ramstad Middle School near Minot State University, which has been vacant since the flood and is still owned by the school district.

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