Fairmont superintendent touts local teamwork

FAIRMONT — The city of Fairmont and Fairmont Area Schools have worked together on a number of projects both large and small over the past decade.

School Superintendent Joe Brown began his 10th year in Fairmont at the beginning of the month. He highlighted some projects he has worked on with the city.

“When I was first interviewed for this position, I was asked how long I would stay in Fairmont and I said I plan to stay at least 10 years, and this is my 10th year. But I have signed a three-year contract, so my plan is to continue to serve through June 30, 2022,” he noted.

“This time of year, I reflect on my previous years and felt it was important to personally thank the city administrator, the mayor and members of the City Council for the positive collaboration we have established among Fairmont Area Schools and the city of Fairmont,” he said.

Brown has worked at small and large school districts in different cities and states over his many years in education. He also knows many of the 300 superintendents across the state.

“I am not aware of another school district that has such a close relationship with the community that they serve. Usually, cities and counties and school districts are all separate entities,” Brown said.

During Brown’s first year as superintendent, the school made an agreement to sell Budd Elementary to the city for $1. The city paid for demolition in order to build a water treatment plant.

During his second year, a committee was formed that consisted of the former mayor, current city administrator previous head of the Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the agriculture community, in order to promote the idea of reinstating the high school’s agriculture program and FFA.

“When I first started going to superintendent conferences, I told people I served in Martin County and they’d ask about our ag program and I told them we didn’t have an ag program and they were just shocked that we didn’t have one,” said Brown, explaining that the program had been cut a number of years before.

In 2011, the committee was formed and gathered for an initial meeting.

“Somebody asked me what it would take to get the program started and I said $300,000 in cash to cover the cost of an agriculture teacher, set up a classroom and lab, purchase the curriculum and run the FFA program. I told them we would pledge to run the program for three years,” Brown said.

In just three months, $300,000 was raised. Since then, the program has been strong and additional funds were raised in order to build a greenhouse.

In another collaboration, Fairmont was the first community in Minnesota to implement a comprehensive community calendar — the Fairmont Area Community Calendar — four years ago. It is funded by the school, city, Visit Fairmont and the Chamber of Commerce.

Brown also said the school has consistently supported tax abatements for new residential construction, and for expansion of commercial buildings, as these projects are good for the community and school.

The school’s director of buildings and grounds, Tyler Garrison, and the city’s parks and streets supervisor, Nick Lardy, confer monthly. The school has contracted with the city to have its parking lots swept, and the district purchases a sand/salt mix from the city during winter.

The school also allows people to park on its softball complex lot at no charge for those using the Fairmont Aquatic Park.

“Finally, we are most excited about the development and success of the White Tail Ridge Housing Project,” Brown said.

For decades, the school had owned property near what is now the soccer complex. The city needed addition building lots, so about three years ago the district sold the 14 acres, which was appraised at $200,000, to the city for $1.

The city installed the infrastructure — roads, sewer and utilities — for 20 lots. For every lot sold, the school district gets $10,000, which is put toward the vocational program. To date, nine lots have sold, bringing in $90,000 for the school’s growing vocational program.

The following are some recent items the school has purchased with the money for the various programs:

o Berina Sewing machines for the textile classes, valued at $6,600.

o Six industry-standard Millermatic welders for the welding academy, valued at $12,600.

o Metal-bending machine for the welding academy, valued at $7,600.

o Laser engraver for the vocational program, valued at $27,000.

o Two band saws, two drill presses, two planers and one shaper for the wood shop, valued at $17,000.

o Several stoves and microwave ovens for the family and consumer science department to prepare for the new ProStart Culinary Arts Program. The items were purchased locally at Dan’s Appliance for $22,500.

“The thing that makes this such a fun community to serve is that these collaborative relationships are good for the city, the region and the school. We have a great track record of working together with the city and, as long as I serve here, I look forward to the continuation of this very positive relationship,” Brown said.