Decorah Middle School students gave a presentation to representatives of Rebound Hospitality Todd Byhre, left, and Brent Nystrom, right, recently. Students from left are Sofie Grouws, Isaac Roberts, Leila Johnson and Noah Lovelace.
Decorah Middle School students gave a presentation to representatives of Rebound Hospitality Todd Byhre, left, and Brent Nystrom, right, recently. Students from left are Sofie Grouws, Isaac Roberts, Leila Johnson and Noah Lovelace.
The developers of a multi-million-dollar hotel in Decorah received some suggestions from a group of Decorah Middle School students recently on how the project might be improved.
Isaac Roberts, Noah Lovelace, Leila Johnson and Sofie Grouws gave Brent Nystrom and Todd Byhre of Rebound Hospitality of Northfield, Minn. a 30-minute presentation on how to build their new Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites the “Decorah Way.”
Rebound, which also manages the Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, is building an 80-room Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites at the southern entrance to the city on the site where the Bluffs Inn is being demolished. Rebound also intends to develop two commercial lots suitable for restaurant or office use in conjunction with the project. The total cost is estimated to be at least $11 million.
Nystrom, Rebound director of business development and investor relations, and Byhre, Rebound chief operating officer and director of operations, were inspired.
“You did a remarkable job – not just with the materials, but the presentation,” Byhre told the students.
“I thought their presentation was on point, very well researched and creative, and for me sort of fit in with the community’s values and just the sense I have of Decorah,” Nystrom said following the presentation.
“It could have been any group presenting this, but it was middle school students … I tried to reflect on when I was 12 or 13 – there was no way I would have been that comfortable presenting something, let alone putting together a Power Point with links to vital websites. Overall, I was incredibly impressed. It was well worth our time to come down and see that,” he said.
Two of the parties involved with the Marriott project have a good grasp of what the Decorah community values. Rebound Chief Executive Officer Brett Reese is a 1981 graduate of Luther College, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson is a 1980 Luther grad, and Sorenson’s wife, Ruth Christensen, is a Decorah native.

Future City
The Middle School students were finalists in the state Future City competition in January.
They designed a city of the future, collaboratively writing an essay describing it, and building a to-scale model. This year the theme was waste management, but students also included futuristic energy sources and transportation, urban agriculture, city services and residential-commercial-industrial planning, according to their instructor Carole Sand.
“After the January competition, we saw an article in the Decorah Newspaper about the new Fairfield Inn and a light bulb went off — what if we could make a difference in one hotel, or possibly an entire chain of hotels? That’s when they went to work the past two months researching their ideas for a more sustainable building design for Decorah’s Fairfield Inn,” Sand said.
“Stephanie Fromm (director of Winneshiek County Development) came in and worked with us and mentioned the importance of doing a cost-analysis for each of our proposals. During the presentation, we could see that Brent and Todd appreciated our research was realistic,” Sand said.
“Project-based learning is extremely engaging for students because they learn to work collaboratively to research and apply the information they learn in a creative way. To take it to the next level to actual research and give a presentation to a local business was an amazing learning venture for these students. They interviewed community members Larry Grimstad and Andy Johnson about solar energy, Stephanie Fromm about business and Terry Buenzow about recycling. They researched environmental technologies, business strategies, marketing and cost-analysis. This is 21st century learning in action,” she said.

‘Decorah way’
“The Decorah way is a mindset in the schools where we show our pride, be respectful and caring, and work hard to do our best,” Roberts said.
“In the community, it means we value working toward being sustainable and earth conscious,” Lovelace added.
Roberts said after working hard researching designs for their Future City, including waste management, he said it was nice to use that background information toward making a difference in the “real world.”

Sustainable
During their presentation, the students told the Rebound representatives the “Decorah Way” focuses on sustainable development, which offers economic growth, social justice, environmental stewardship and community pride.
The 4 “Rs” of sustainability are “reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (community wide composting).” The “Decorah way” also calls for clean energy with a high percentage from solar, wind and geothermal.
The Middle Schoolers presented slides on ways Fairfield could become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Their suggestions included:
• Replacing single use amenity bottles (for shampoo, conditioner, shower gel) with permanent amenity dispensers, reducing waste
• Providing customized recycling containers in every room. (According to the students, 50 to 60 percent of a hotel’s waste is recyclable)
• Considering recycling chutes – either pneumatic or drop tubes – that would drop recyclables into containers in the hotel’s recycling collection area
• Using reusable dishes or paper plates instead of Styrofoam. The student said more than two pounds of breakfast waste is generated per hotel guest per meal. After the initial investment of buying plates, silverware and glasses, it would cost 2.5 cents per plate to wash versus 3 cents to buy one-use plates. Paper plates are more environmentally friendly than Styrofoam and break down faster, they said. Paper plates are also biodegradable and don’t produce methane.
• Utilizing solar energy and providing electric vehicle charging stations. Johnson told the Rebound representatives Decorah is the solar leader in Iowa, with at least 30 businesses now using solar, including flat, rooftop installations.
The students said hotel guests are interested in staying at hotels that reflect their environmental values.

Now is the time
Planning for the new Decorah Fairfield is currently at a critical point, according to Byhre.
“It’s the best time for us to challenge them (project planners) before we get too far down the road,” he said.
“This gives us a guideline for us to ask questions,” Byhre said, adding he’d be glad to update the students on things that could be incorporated into the project and any roadblocks.
“We do have quite a bit of flexibility. Now is the time – we’re doing design reviews,” he said.
“We’ll continue the dialog as we move forward,” Nystrom said.
He said Rebound would need to decide how the students’ suggestions work within the budget.
“Needless to say, we’ll be looking at most of their ideas and seeing if we can’t fit them into the plan. Things like the electric charging station – I would really push for that. The cost is low and the benefit from having it available would be worth that cost. I think they did a nice job of saying potentially what the payback period is and things to consider when putting the project together,” Nystrom said.
“We learned a lot. Kudos to them and to Carole for a really thoughtful presentation. I enjoyed it and meeting them. We want to check back in with them and let them know what our progress has been and why we’ve made certain decisions. I think they deserve that after putting that effort in. We want to keep them in the loop.”
Nystrom said good progress is being made at the future hotel site.
“We’re still on the timeline we want to be on. It’s pretty important to have it open by this time next year. So far, so good.”

Reaction
Students gave their reactions after the presentation.
“I learned that being environmentally friendly doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money. If they implement many of the options we researched and presented, they will actually be saving money over a period of time,” Roberts said.
“When I grow up and have a job, my employer isn’t going to give me a worksheet where I can just fill-in-the-blanks. They’re going to give me a project to work on, so that’s what I need to be doing in school,” Grouws said.
“Being sustainable and proud of it is one of the easiest and most effective ways for a business to market itself,” she said.
“I learned a lot about what it would be like to create a sustainable system in real life. Future Cities taught me about the engineering behind those systems, but this project taught me how to make a system that could actually work,” Johnson said.
“Businesses need to learn to be more sustainable to preserve earth’s resources,” she said.
“Brent and Todd were very excited and engaged and we hope they will incorporate our ideas into their plan. But we learned that in the business world, there are real-world hurdles to jump like cost problems, getting approval from Marriott and working with engineers on site and building plans,” Lovelace said.