DWCRC woes put school plan into limbo

Controversy still surrounds the attempt to close the Dakota Womens Corrections and Rehabilitation Center. File photo

For the New England Public School Superintendent, the passage of a school construction referendum in November was good news.
It would give the campus a chance to upgrade its facilities to meet the current and future needs for both students and the faculty.

By Brad Mosher
The Herald

What happened a month later has not only put construction plans on hold for the small school, it may end them.
It was Dec. 6 when Gov. Douglas Burgum announced plans to close the Dakota Womens Corrections and Rehabilitation Center and move all the women inmates to the Bismarck area.
Now, with the future of the DWCRC in limbo at the state capital not only for the present, but the future, that uncertainty has had a large impact on the plan to improve the campus, according to Superintendent Kelly Koppinger.
“We are going to wait and see what the Senate comes up with,” he said. “When they come up with a recommendation, we will reconvene our building committee and put a little more discussion into the building project as to what direction we want to go with it. “
The building committee has talked about taking one of three different directions, according to the superintendent. “We have talked about putting the whole thing on hold. We have talked about going forward with the project in its entirety. We have also talked about phasing that project out.
“We will put it on hold for the next three or four weeks and then we will make some decisions accordingly,” he said, noting the Senate still has to decide.
“It was probably the worst case scenario for us to take if they put it to a two-year study, but we have got some decisions to make. That will be determined by their (the Senate) course of action they want to take.
“We have got things on hold right now until we can see what direction they are going to go. The House recommended a two-year study and the Senate could recommend something different. The governor could go in another direction,” Koppinger added.
“We are kind of in limbo for a little bit and I think once the legislative session closes out or has a determination about the fate of the corrections facility, we have to make some determinations as to where we want to take this,” the superintendent said.
“It won’t in anybody’s best interests to move forward until we hear what the legislators are going to do with it,” he added.
One bright spot for both the prison and the plan to upgrade and improve the school facilities was the lopsided House vote to keep the DWCRC open for at least two more years, he explained.
“I am not sure which legislators voted for the change, but my guess it would have been from Jamestown and Bismarck,” he added. “It was overwhelming for doing a study.”
Even though a study would leave the prison future unsettled for another two years, Koppinger supported it. “I think the study is going to help determine (if it is a good idea) and hopefully they can see a way to keep the women here and put some money into that direction.”
He also said that the Department of Corrections should put off making a rash decision based on a correctional philosophy from another country. Reportedly, the DOCR has been trying to adopt correctional standards seen in a brief tour of Norway facilities.
“I think they need to look at what has worked (here), what isn’t working, and move forward with that thought in mind,” the superintendent added.
In November, the school bond issue passed with 65 percent of the vote.
The enrollment in 2012 and 2013 was about 180.
By 2018, that number had climbed to more than 230.
The estimate is that enrollment could be more than 300 by 2024, according to projections.

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