July 29, 2014

Ground broken for new $50 million high school

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

As earth moving equipment was already at work shaping the ground, school and city officials on Monday, July 21, officially broke ground on a new $50 million, 600-student capacity, high school to serve Watford City’s growing student numbers.
“This is a big moment for the Watford City community and the McKenzie County School District,” stated Steve Holen, McKenzie County School District No. 1 superintendent. “This building is for the students today and in the future. This will be a true McKenzie County facility that will reflect Watford City’s spirit.”
With an unprecedented growth in student numbers as a result of the hundreds of new families that are moving into the school district to find work in the region’s oil industry, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 has been faced with the challenge of having enough classroom space.
Even after enlarging the elementary school and relocating the sixth grade classes to the high school in the past year, the district is simply running out of classrooms.
According to Holen, the growth in student numbers in the past five years has been astounding.
“In 2010, the district only had an enrollment of 582 students in kindergarten through grade 12,” stated Holen. “When school opens this fall, we are anticipating 1,200 students.”
The increase in student numbers, according to Holen, has been steady. In 2011, the district saw its enrollment increase to 705 students, while 867 students were enrolled in 2012.
And last year, for the first time since the early ’70s, the district saw its enrollment top 1,000 students when 1,075 started class in the fall.
By far, the biggest growth in student numbers has been in the elementary school, with Holen anticipating over 650 students this fall in just the kindergarten through fifth grades.
“At the high school, we are expecting to see a minimum of 550 students in grades six through 12 this fall,” states Holen. “This is the most students that we have had in the high school since the early 1980s.”
It is that student growth, as well as the projected district’s growth to  1,600 students by the start of the 2017-18 school year, that prompted the school district to move forward quickly on the building of a new high school.
But the new high school would not have been possible without the support of the school district’s patrons who overwhelmingly passed a $27 million bond issue by a 90 percent majority this past March.
And that support was recognized by Steve Stenehjem, whose family donated the land for the new high school in the Fox Hills Subdivision.
“This is going to be a premier facility and is going to showcase our city,” stated Stenehjem. “My father and grandfather would be amazed to see their land being used for this new school.”
The ground-breaking on July 21 was just the beginning of a very ambitious 18-month construction project that Holen says should be student-ready by December of 2015.
“We expect to begin vertical construction on the new high school in early November,” states Holen. “And the goal is to have substantial completion by December of 2015.”
Last month the school board was forced to cut some of the items from the project such as the athletic field, some of the seating in the gymnasium, a greenhouse for the Vocational Education Department, as well as just shelling eight classrooms and the theater when the initial building estimates topped $56 million.
“When the bids come in, we will see what we can add back to the building,” states Holen.
According to Myra Anderson, who chaired the Vote Yes Committee for the $27 million bond issue, the ground-breaking was just another example of Watford City coming together to get things done.
“I think that this project shows what is best about this town,” stated Anderson. “The old and new residents coming together to make this new school possible.”