School epitomizes Northwood recoveryThe street leading to the new school is Trojan Road, a nod to its sports nickname when Northwood went alone in athletics. For 10 years, Northwood has been part of a sports cooperative with neighboring Hatton, with “Thunder” as its nickname. Sports co-ops have become common for rural schools as shrinking enrollments mean fewer students available for extra-curricular activities.
By: By Ryan Bakken , Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
NORTHWOOD, N.D. — The street leading to the new school is Trojan Road, a nod to its sports nickname when Northwood went alone in athletics.
For 10 years, Northwood has been part of a sports cooperative with neighboring Hatton, with “Thunder” as its nickname. Sports co-ops have become common for rural schools as shrinking enrollments mean fewer students available for extra-curricular activities.
Schools also are increasingly sharing in other areas, such as teachers, facilities and classes. In some cases, as enrollments and finances erode, this sharing has led to school consolidations.
Northwood’s $12.7 million school, replacing a tornado-destroyed building, has solidified its future.
“It gives us stability going forward,” said Erik Thorsgard, the school board president. “Residents didn’t wait to see what was happening with the school before they rebuilt, but I think the school has helped to bring businesses and people building here.”
Thorsgard and Bob Wallace, the school board president in 2007, are hesitant to talk about the school becoming a magnet for consolidation because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Plus, a month before the August 2007 tornado, Northwood and Hatton voted on a consolidation plan that would have both towns with a K-6 school, Hatton with grades 7-8 and Northwood with grades 9-12. The measure had 96 percent approval in Northwood, but only 42 percent in Hatton, so it was defeated.
But Hatton welcomed Northwood students after the tornado. The students did not share classrooms, but Northwood high-schoolers occupied the Hatton school’s third floor while the younger grades were scattered throughout Hatton, most of them in portable construction trailers.
“The first item of business was to get our kids back into a normal environment,” Wallace said. “Because of Hatton, we were able to do that.
“To this day, we’re very grateful to Hatton.”
Residents also were grateful that they got a new school without additional taxes. The North Dakota State Fire and Tornado Fund paid nearly $8 million for damages, the biggest claim paid in the state insurance fund’s 90-year existence. The Federal Emergency Management Agency chipped in almost $4 million, leaving the local contribution at about $800,000.
The local share was handled through refinancing and state loans, so taxes didn’t need to be hiked, Wallace said.
On the eve of the first day of classes five years ago, Brock Sherva was nervous even before the wind came up.
“I was going into seventh grade, so it was already unfamiliar territory for me,” he said.
His anxiety grew considerably after the tornado tore up his home and school.
“Not only was I now going to a new school in another town, but I also was living on the farm with my grandparents, so I went from a town kid to a city kid,” he said. “It was one change after another.”
Now a senior, Sherva concedes the now-demolished old school has an emotional tug for its graduates, who include his parents. But his generation looks at the new school differently. It’s bigger. It’s shiny. It’s state-of-the-art. It’s great.
“We love our new school,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll trade it back for the old one.”
Sonja Bilden, a senior who has John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” as her cell phone ringtone, agrees.
“It’s way better and bigger than before,” she said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Just as the flood in Grand Forks resulted in new, bigger and better facilities at discounted prices, so has Northwood’s tornado.
Its K-12 facility, starting its fourth school year, has 150 percent of the space of the old school, which dated to the 1930s. Its 100,000 square feet are on one floor, with the latest in amenities, architecture and technological bells-and-whistles.
Also, the school appears to solidify the future of the school district and town.
“The tornado was horrific and awful, but it did a lot of good for us,” Sherva said. “This is a huge step for us to be able to say: ‘We’re going to be here for a while.’”
The motto of the Northwood High School Class of 2008 was: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s learning to dance in the rain.”
The tornado’s senior class members may have been forced to “dance in the rain” by attending school in another town, but they were home for graduation. The gym was the first building priority so it could hold the graduation ceremony.
Because of the tornado damage, enrollment was down about 50 students in 2007-08. But Northwood’s population has remained stable at about 900. And, its enrollment has rebounded to its pre-tornado level of 250 students as homes were rebuilt and others from the area have open-enrolled. The new school is at least part of the attraction.
Wallace said the new school helps in providing a “stable future,” while Thorsgard calls it a “big piece of the rebuilding puzzle.”
But neither would say the school is the symbol of Northwood’s recovery. The will to rebuild was more significant, they say.
“As long as we have kids in town graduating from the school, that’s more of a symbol of recovery than the building itself,” Thorsgard said. “There was uncertainty of about how the school would get done, but there was never any uncertainty about if it would get done.”