June 2, 2015

New high school reaches halfway point

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The wall structures for the new Watford City High School, east of town are almost done, meaning the construction is finally at its halfway point. Completion is on target for the end of the year, with the transition of school students moving into their new building set for January 2016.
“We’re very much at pre-cast of the walls and the wall structure itself almost being done,” said Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District #1 superintendent. “And we’re probably at about 50 percent of the roof being done. We’re in the enclosure process, and we’re at a milestone in the process of the windows going in.”
Kraus-Anderson Construction Company of Minneaplois, Minn., has been feverishly working to stay on track with their time frame, and according to Holen, they have been a really good construction team to work with, having a good flow and working at a great pace.
With the framing going up, block work being set, and masonry work being accomplished, rooms are starting to take form in the new state-of-the-art building. According to Ron Shatto, area superintendent with Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, windows and roofing should be done in less than a month. Once enclosure takes place, the process will move rather quickly.
“The HVAC and electrical are going well,” said Holen. “We see a lot of it coming together. One of the last parts was the expansion of the cafeteria. It got added late and the construction crew is getting that part framed in.”
With the expansion of the cafeteria space, an additional 3,000 square feet was added to the total square footage of the building. With that additional space added, the total square footage of the entire building will be approximately 160,000 square feet, with a capacity of 800 students. According to Holen, there are contingencies built in to add in the future if needed.
With 600 students enrolled in the existing Watford City High School at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, there is no denying that those students were feeling cramped in a much smaller space. The existing high school building, built in 1985, is only 120,000 square feet, with a capacity of 500 to 600 students. With that capacity fully maxed out, students are undeniably looking forward to the transition into their new high school facility in early 2016.
“There will be a lot more space to utilize in the new building,” stated Holen. “And we will be able to hold more events. It will be a building that will reflect 30 years of transition and growth. It’s a building where we get to modernize our approach to how we’re teaching our students today. Over the past 30 years, things have really changed.”
The new high school will boast several features and upgrades including a new full-fledged theatre with an orchestra pit, a larger gym, a student grill area, a student store, updated and changed spaces for the vocational agriculture and family consumer science departments, five computer lab classrooms, several commons areas  for team teaching, several teacher office/working spaces, an extensive amount of parking, and an underground walk-way to the new Events Center.
“Everything in the new high school building will all tie to the student curriculum,” says Holen. “The layout will be very different. We’ll have a high-tech area catered to our newer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum. It will be more designed to an area that is conducive to not being exposed to the elements. Our family consumer science area will be more modernized and will expand on the culinary arts, which will include a curriculum that adds a commercial/industrial cooking piece as well. And our new gym could have a capacity to hold 1,400 people with bleachers added.”
Watford City High School’s existing gym, built in 1957, has outgrown its current capacity of 800 people. According to Holen, the current gym is the oldest piece in the district, but has served the community well.
The grill operation in the new building will be able to double as a concession for the many sporting/educational events held in the gym, as well as a grill the students will be able to use as an extension of  the classroom and for school lunches.
“The grill will have a multi-purpose use for a lot of different aspects,” said Holen. “And the marketing of it - we can have banquets and cater school events. By using the grill in this manner, we will be able to utilize it and not have to have a full-size kitchen or have to use the kitchen staff.”
The full-fledged theatre, complete with its own sound and lighting system, will be able to not only offer the students an enhanced learning space, but the community as well. It will open up the dynamic of the fine arts department by involving many more students and educational departments. Not only will the music department be able to use this new space to its full extent, but students from the theatre and the computer/science departments will additionally.
“The idea is really to get the students involved,” stated Holen. “Now, we can really have three departments involved and working in the theatre. It’s a space that will be viewed, really, as a community-based and community-used part of the building. The new theatre will be able to hold a capacity of 600 people instead of our current media center, which holds about 225.”
The transition of moving high school students from the existing building into the new one is still being planned for January 2016, says Holen. Grades 7 through 12 will move up to the new building, while the fourth through sixth grades will be in the old high school building.
“The fifth grade students will get to move out of the portables and into classrooms,” said Holen. “We are hoping there will be minimal disruption with the actual move itself. The move into the new high school will be easier. There will be no transition at all for sixth graders, and a little bit of transition for the fourth and fifth graders. It really should be minimal. We are still working on formalizing those details though.”
Once the transition takes place, a crowded 725-student elementary school will then become a less-packed building with approximately 550 to 600 students in grades K-3. And there will be about 300 to 350 students in the new high school building. Of course the school district will have to duplicate services adding a third building. But because there are currently two principals at the elementary school, one will stay at the elementary school and one will move over to lead the 4-6 grades.
“Most likely one principal would stay at the elementary and one would go to the old high school building,” said Holen. “We’ll have to duplicate those services such as additional custodial, kitchen, and administration staff, with a third building. But those details will be worked out.”
The long-term goal, according to Holen, is to have the old high school building operate and function as a true middle school, which will most likely serve a middle-level range of students from grades 6-8.
“Whatever we do to the old high school will be with the intent of functioning as a middle school,” says Holen. “Which will hopefully be sixth, seventh, and eighth grade - a middle level range. This transition is only temporary, and not long-term. The long-term goal is to have a middle level middle school.”
And according to Holen, once the fourth and fifth graders move to the old high school building, those students will still have time to stretch their legs with recess. It might just look different than it used to at the elementary school. Holen says they will have to get creative with some spacing, as there will be limited green space with the old high school building.
“It will be a work in progress,” says Holen. “We can do some hard-top surfaces, the old shop areas could be used for indoor recess areas, and we can still use the parks and football field because they’re in close proximity. We’ll just get creative and make it work.”
As construction on the new high school nears the end, and transition moves its way closer and closer, Holen imagines there will be a series of open houses to allow students, parents, and community members to see the final outcome of a $53 million project.
“We’re trying to update our website on a more weekly-basis with our progress and pictures,” said Holen. “It’s been a substantial investment, but it will be a building the community can be proud of and a building that will evolve over the years to come. We want to encourage people to watch our progress and to be a part of what’s going on as we move forward.”
To keep updated on the current progress and/or to see pictures, visit the school’s website at www.watford-city.k12.nd.us and click on the new high school project tab.