November 18, 2014

Board looks to build second elementary school

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While construction work has just begun on Watford City’s new high school building, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 School Board is moving ahead with plans to build a second elementary school.
“We knew that the day would come when we would have to address the need for additional elementary school space,” states Steve Holen, district superintendent. “That time has now arrived.”
According to Holen, the need for a new elementary school is driven by the ever-increasing student growth in the lower grades.
“We currently have 500 students in just kindergarten through the third grade,” states Holen. “And if those numbers keep growing, which we expect, we are going to have to figure out where we are going to put the fourth through sixth grades.”
The existing Watford City Elementary School, which was remodeled two years ago, has a capacity for 600 students, a number that Holen says is too big for an elementary school.
To meet the demands for a new elementary school, Holen says that the school board has asked the Holm family to present a formal proposal to locate a new school in the Homestead, a new residential development on Watford City’s north side.
“Their proposal would be the kick-start for a new elementary school,” states Holen. “The board is anticipating that the Holm family will donate the land needed for the school to the district.”
McKenzie County School District No. 1 has seen a huge increase in its student numbers over the past several years as more and more families move into the area to work in the growing oil industry.
“Our largest increases in student numbers started in the 2012-13 school year,” states Holen. “And today, we are seeing between 150 to 200 new students enrolling in our district each year.”
According to Holen, between the last day of school last spring and the start of school this fall, the district saw a growth of 225 students.
“We are expecting 1,600 students in the district at the start of school next fall,” states Holen. “That is why the board earlier approved contracting with a company to conduct another demographic study to help guide us in how many students we can expect going forward.”
The new study, which is expected to be presented at the board’s December meeting, according to Holen, will be the basis for the district’s plans to handle continued growth.
“We need the new numbers,” states Holen. “The old numbers provided by our earlier demographic study weren’t wrong. The growth just happened faster than was expected.”
Holen believes that the amount of growth in student numbers is going to be directly related to how much housing is being built in Watford City.
“With 2,000 new housing units now under construction in Watford City, we expect to see our student numbers to continue to grow,” states Holen.
Which is why the board is moving forward with planning for a new elementary school.
“We want to be able to move forward with a new elementary school as quickly as possible,” states Holen. “A lot will depend on what the Legislature does in the way of helping schools, like ours, that are experiencing this type of growth with new school construction.”
Holen believes that if the Legislature allows the school district to use a portion of the Gross Production Taxes (GPT) that it receives for new school construction, the district will be able to move forward without having to burden local taxpayers as much.
“The biggest issue for us is the ability to use those GPT funds without them being subtracted from the per pupil payments that we receive from the state,” says Holen. “If we can’t have that happen, then it will limit our funding sources.”
Holen believes that the cost of building a new elementary school, which is estimated to be $20 million, will be considerably cheaper than what the district is spending to construct its new high school.
“To build a second elementary school is a real leap for most school districts,” states Holen. “But with our increasing student numbers, we don’t really have any choice but to consider that option.”
Grant allows board to increase high school capacity to 800 students
Watford City’s new high school will have the capacity for 800 students, thanks to a $280,000 state grant.
“Being able to have 800 students in our new high school is important to us,” states Holen. “The grant will allow us to finish out the classrooms that were just being shelled because of a lack of funds.”
According to Holen, the construction work on the new high school, which is being built in the Fox Hills Subdivision, is progressing on schedule.
“Steel framing on the school is expected to begin in December with the precast walls starting to go up in January,” states Holen. “The expected completion date for the new high school is December of 2015.”
According to Holen, the board is expecting to have the final costs of the new high school at its December meeting.
“Our last big bid package will be coming in shortly,” says Holen. “After that bid comes in, we will know what our final cost will be.”
And last week, the school district and the city of Watford City finally became owners of the land on which the new high school and community Events Center will be built, as the Stenehjem family presented the deeds for the 53 acres of land in the Fox Hills Subdivision.
“The donation of the land, valued at $10.9 million, as well as the $3 to $4 million in earthwork that the Stenehjems donated was a huge benefit,” stated Holen. “If the district would have had to incur those costs, the new high school would have been much different. We can’t be more thankful to the Stenehjems for their donation.”