February 20, 2013

Developer pitches new high school option to school board

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the McKenzie County Public School District may be a few years away from deciding whether or not its growing student numbers will require the district to build a new high school, one developer thinks his company has the perfect solution.
During the school board’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, Doug Heil with Fox Hills Development, which is planning a 306 acre master planned community on the south side of N.D. Highway 23 in the vicinity of the Fox Hills Golf Course & Country Club,  floated a proposal that would get the district the new school that it could possibly need. And as an added bonus, the company would build the school to the district’s plans and then lease it back to the district over a period of time.
“We’re very interested in working with the school district,” stated Heil. “We would provide you with a finished project and the district would then pay a lease fee where you would end up owning the facility after 10 to 15 years.”
According to Wayne Yaeger of HTG, a Bismarck architectural firm, who had prepared a conceptual plan for the new high school, the facility would be located on between 32 and 35 acres of land within the Fox Hills development and include a 165,000 square foot school for an estimated enrollment of 500 to 600 students, as well as an indoor pool, baseball, football, soccer and softball fields.
“This is a dream facility,” stated Yaeger. “We tried to put everything that you could possibly want on the land available. “It is a menu for what you want or don’t want.”
According to Heil, a new high school would be a perfect anchor to the Fox Hills development, which is set to break ground this spring.
“We would like to have a the future high school on our site,” stated Heil. “We’d consider it a major anchor.”
Fox Hills plans to have a mix of retail, commercial as well as residential developments.
Once developed, according to Heil, Fox Hills will have 1,100 homes, hotels, retail and commercial offices, as well as walking and biking trails and parks.
While the concept was met with a warm response from the district’s school board, it was not without its problems.
First, the design-build proposal being presented by Fox Hills, while being used extensively in other states, may not be legal in North Dakota.
While Wyatt Voll, the district’s attorney questioned whether or not the process is legal in North Dakota, Heil indicated that their research indicates that it would be an avenue that the school district could pursue.
“The design-build concept allows the school district to circumvent the bid process because we would own the building to the end,” stated Heil. “The school district would not own it until it had made all of its lease payments.”
But according to Steve Holen, district superintendent, even if the district could use a design-build concept, it may not choose to do so or be interested in exploring the option of a new high school right now.
“We’re not at the point of a new building right now,” stated Holen. “We’re working with a demographic firm right now and trying to get a handle on our projected enrollment numbers.”
And if the district should determine that a new high school is needed, he will consider the offer from Fox Hills.
“The concept of design-build has its advantages,” stated Holen. “It also has some drawbacks.”
From the positive side, if it is legal for the school district to enter into a design-build agreement, Holen acknowledges that the process could be cheaper and faster for the district.
But on the downside, he is concerned about the possible lease rates being higher than the rate for district financed bonds. Plus, Holen is also concerned that if the district would use the design-build concept it could possibly take school district patrons out of the decision-making process.
During Monday night’s meeting, the board also heard a request from Pastor Bob Lawson of the Living Faith Lutheran Church as to whether or not the district would consider allowing the church to hold its Sunday services in the high school’s Media Center until their new church is built.
The school district is in the process of revising its policy on allowing use of school district property by outside entities, but Voll recommended that the board not allow for any new uses until the policy has been finalized.
“It is an important policy,” stated Voll. “We don’t want to deny something we consider as a reasonable use. But we don’t want a policy that allows something to occur that we hadn’t considered.”
According to Voll, he would like to have a first reading on any policy revisions at the board’s March meeting.
“We need to be careful in this policy,” stated Kelly Norby, board president. “We have to be careful, especially when it comes to religious organizations using school district property.”
In other business, the school board:
• Approved the retirement resignation of Cari Liebel as a kindergarten teacher and the resignation of Rachel Dwyer as a high school English teacher at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
•Approved recognizing the Watford City Education Association as the unit to negotiate the master agreement for the 2013-2014 school year.
• Approved hiring Sonya Arline as an assistant high school cook, Landi Ray and Anna Walls as school bus drivers, and Magen Steig as a high school special education instructor.