September 4, 2013


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Who would have ever thought that student enrollment numbers at McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 would ever top 1,000 students again? But here we are one week after the opening of school this year and the district’s enrollment is hovering in the 1,026 range, and the newly-expanded elementary school is already too small for the influx of new students.
While the increase in student numbers is exciting as it shows that families are moving into our community, the rapid growth in enrollment is already presenting a whole new set of problems that our school administrators are going to have to deal with. And the biggest of those challenges is going to be the building of a new school building.
It seems hard to believe that in the short span of seven years, our school district has had to completely rethink its need for schools.
Seven or so years ago, because student numbers were on a steady decline, our school board was actually giving consideration to consolidating the elementary school into the high school.
But those days of declining enrollment are long gone.
Five years ago, the entire district’s student enrollment was about 500 students. Today, there are 541 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade packed into our elementary school, while there are another 485 students in the high school.
While this year’s enrollment numbers may seem unbelievable, they are actually on track with the projection numbers that the school board received earlier this summer from RSP, a demographics firm that the board hired to help with its growth assessment.
According to that study, the enrollment of McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 is projected to hit 1,600 students by the start of the 2017-2018 school year. And then depending upon the growth of Watford City and its surrounding area, that number could continue to increase.
And with those kind of student numbers just a very short four years away, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board is going to have to move fast to get a new school building constructed.
The school board knew last year that it had its marching orders to get more classrooms ready. Which is why they expanded the existing elementary school with hopes that the addition would buy them a little breathing room. And as we now can see, it was a good thing they went forward with the project. But it’s too bad that they didn’t make the addition larger as there is limited room for any more growth.
So with the elementary school once again unable to handle any more new students and the high school building projected to be out of room for additional students in two years, the pressure is on the school board to find land for a new high school and to get the building constructed.
Finding land for a new school building and hiring an architect is going to be a challenge for the district. And if the district can come up with a financing package, getting a new school building ready for the start of the 2015-16 school year is going to be an equally daunting challenge.
But with student numbers swelling and with very little room left in our existing schools to accommodate much more growth, there is no choice left for the board but to move forward as quickly as possible with building a new school building.