October 30, 2013

Board narrows new high school sites to two

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The possible sites for a new high school to meet Watford City’s growing student numbers has been narrowed from four to two.
During last Monday’s meeting of the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board, the board decided that two proposed 40-acre parcels, one north of Watford City and one east of the city, were the most suitable for a new high school.
According to Doug Larson of JLG, a firm employed by the school district to design the new school building, the other two possible sites were deemed to be too far from existing city utilities.
“The north and the east site met all of our criteria when it comes to accessibility, traffic management and environment,” stated Larson. “The sites to the south and west of Watford City were less desirable.”
According to Larson, the north site, which is owned by the Holm family, and the east site, which is in the proposed Fox Hills development, both met all of the criteria and are very near to the city.
“The north site rated very highly in all of our criteria,” stated Larson. “Plus it is very near to the existing city limits, and with the growth of the city north, it is a very good site.”
Larson also said that the north site, while not being most visible from major roadways, has good access to existing city water and sewer lines, as well as is in a very buildable site.
“The Fox Hills site is also a very good possible site,” stated Larson. “The development has been planned into the development area and has good access. But it is a long way from town right now, and the site is in an area identified as a flood plain.”
Of the two sites reviewed by JLG, Larson said that the north site was their first choice.
“We liked the location of the north site the best,” stated Larson. “We see the city developing in that direction very quickly.”
With the location of the site of the new high school being narrowed down, according to Steve Holen, district superintendent, the number one task now facing the board is to secure the land and to prepare for a January vote for a general obligation bond.
“Our goal now is to finalize the contract with JLG, work on the schematic drawings for the new school, advertise for a construction manager and complete the land negotiations on the two sites,” states Holen.
And, according to Holen, it is his goal to have all of those items ready for the Nov. 7 board meeting with the goal of having the new school ready to open in the fall of 2015.
“If you want the school open by the fall of 2015, there is a lot to get done quickly before the January referendum,” stated Larson.
During Monday night’s meeting, the board approved hiring JLG on an hourly basis until the final contract can be finalized. In addition, the board approved spending $292,000 for JLG to do the schematic drawings.
“We can’t do the schematic drawings until the final site has been selected,” stated Larson. “And we need to get a construction management group on board as quickly as possible.”
And then, depending upon the outcome of the January referendum, according to Larson, work can begin in earnest.
“You have to get things going next summer in order to be ready by 2015,” said Larson. “Weather is always going to be a factor, but you have to plan on good construction weather.”
While Holen acknowledges that having the new high school open by the fall of 2015 is a very aggressive goal, it is something that the district has to plan for considering the district’s rapidly growing enrollment.
“We would like the new school to be open by the fall of 2015,” stated Holen. “But if that isn’t possible, then we will want to move the students into the new building by December of 2015.”
While the school board is moving forward with the building plans, Holen also says the district is preparing information for the January vote.
“We will be asking the voters of McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 to authorize the sale of general obligation bonds for the construction of the new high school,” states Holen. “At this time, we don’t know the cost to the taxpayers, but as we get that information, we will be sharing it with district patrons.”
According to Holen, in preparation for the January vote, the school board will be hosting three public meetings to share information with taxpayers.
“We know that we can’t fund the new school construction without taxpayer help,” states Holen. “If we are going to build a new school building, we are going to need everyone’s help financially.”
During Monday night’s meeting, the board also moved forward with plans to build a new parking lot at the elementary school by approving $500,000 for the necessary earthwork.
According to Ben Mattson of Construction Engineers, the new parking lot would cost $1,232,000.
“Nothing is locked into stone at this time as to where the new parking lot will be located, but we are looking at having it on the east side of the school. But in order to do that we have to increase the elevation of the site by four feet.”
According to Holen, in order to increase parking at the elementary school, the district has looked at options of increasing the size of the parking lot on the north and east sides of the school.
“We’re having a hard time separating the parent pick-up area from the bus pick-up area,” stated Holen. “We’re trying to keep the kindergarten pick-up on the east side of the school and we could move the bus pick-up area to the north or west sides. We just don’t know how it’s going to work out, but we know we have move forward with the parking lot.”