April 1, 2014

Land Board provides $8 million for new high school

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 and Watford City city officials received a very welcome contribution last week that will help with initial infrastructure work for a new high school and events center on the east side of Watford City.
On Monday, March 24, North Dakota’s Board of University and School Lands approved an $8 million state energy impact grant that will pay for water and sewer lines and streets that will serve the new Watford City High School, a city events center and nearby housing development.
“These state funds will support the construction of critical infrastructure that will accommodate the building of a new high school and other development in Watford City,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the five-member Land Board. “We will continue working with local officials in the state’s oil and gas region to address the dynamic challenges of rapid growth.”
According to Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 superintendent, the city and the school district submitted a joint application for the grant.
“At the end of the day, the $8 million grant is going to help us offset the cost to get utilities to the site,” states Holen.
And according to Holen, with the state grant, the district will be able to keep its existing funding sources intact to build the new $49.8 million high school.
“At the present time, we have $27 million that the voters of the school district provided in the special election, as well as a $10 million Bank of North Dakota loan,” states Holen. “In addition, we have $4.37 million from the State Land Board and are waiting to see if we can get $10 million from the State School Construction Loan Fund.”
Another component of the district’s financing package could include creating a special assessment district.
“We’re working with the city to create a special assessment district for the new high school,” states Holen. “If that comes together, it could defer $6.7 million from our building cost.”
While Holen is still putting the final touches on the new school’s funding package, he says that final planning on the new high school is rapidly coming together.
“We plan to have the bid package on the earthwork ready for early May,” states Holen. “And if the weather cooperates, we will be moving dirt by the first part of June.”
According to Holen, the district is hopeful that the new high school will be substantially completed by November of 2014.
“An 18-month construction schedule is very aggressive,” states Holen. “But we’ve got to get the building completed and ready for students in order to accommodate the growth that we are seeing.”
It is the district’s intention to initially have grades seven through 12 in the new high school with the existing high school being used as a middle school.
“The new high school will have a capacity for 800 students,” states Holen. “And that should give us some breathing room to handle the growth in students that we are seeing in the lower grades.”
“This grant funding dealt with the infrastructure that would be needed to surround the new school building site, as well as the events center,” said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota’s superintendent of Public Instruction. “The city and school district have done such great, thoughtful, collaborative planning. I thought it was appropriate that the state stepped in at this time and supported those initiatives, and that vision, in any way that we could.”
The board also indicated that they intend to provide the city and school district another $3 million in grants next year to help pay for utility construction costs.