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AS I SEE IT

Posted 12/18/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the number of students attending Watford City schools has been growing at a staggering rate the last five years thanks to the development of the Bakken oilfield in McKenzie County, the most recent enrollment projections are showing that more and more students will soon be filling our local schools.
Earlier this month, RSP, the demographic firm employed by the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 as well as several other North Dakota school districts, presented its newest enrollment projections to the school board and the public. And those new projections show that the district will grow from its current enrollment of 1,892 students to 2,361 students over the next five years. And the growth doesn’t stop there as by the start of the 2028-29 school year, it is estimated that 3,838 students will be attending Watford City schools.
That means that within the next nine years, Watford City schools will see an enrollment gain of nearly 2,000 students, which is more than double the number of students that are attending school today.
While that increase in student numbers is staggering, it is also why the school district is planning for how many new schools will have to be built or how it will have to reconfigure its existing buildings to handle that growth. Currently, the three district buildings are operating very close to capacity, and when the second elementary school opens this fall, it will also be at full capacity.
Like many other school districts in the state’s oil patch, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 is taking a very realistic approach to having new school buildings in place when the demand warrants it.
But unlike many other communities, such as Williston and Dickinson which are seeing similar gains in students and population growth, Watford City is facing a very unique problem when it comes to bringing more and more new families to the community seeking permanent jobs in the oil and natural gas industry. And that challenge is the lack of single-family housing.
RSP’s enrollment projections clearly point out that unless hundreds of new homes are built in Watford City every year for the foreseeable future, student enrollment growth could begin to taper off.
And already district administrators are starting to see the impact that the lack of new family homes is having on enrollment growth.
The bottom line is if Watford City’s population is going to continue to grow to between 10,000 and 15,000 people and if the school district’s enrollment is going to grow to over 3,000 students in the next 10 years, new homes have to start coming out of the ground.
Over the last several years, Watford City and McKenzie County have done a great job of making this area a great place for families to live. We’ve developed tremendous school systems and recreational opportunities for everyone who lives here. But the biggest hurdle to growing our population has been the lack of single-family housing.
City and county officials are well aware of the need to develop a program that will spur the construction of new homes not only in Watford City, but in Arnegard and Alexander as well. And it appears that a new plan could be rolled out to residential developers before the spring construction season that will help bring affordable single-family homes to the county.
Once single-family homes become readily available, there is no question that the populations in our communities and school districts will continue to grow.