March 18, 2014

Voters say “Yes” to new high school

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

Thanks to the 748 individuals who voted ‘yes’ to the McKenzie County School District No. 1 $27 million bond referendum, it passed by 90 percent on March 11. With $23 million coming from other sources, the district can now begin construction on its $50 million state-of-the-art high school building at Fox Hills in Watford City, which should be complete by the end of 2015.
The bond election committee reported there were 83 opposed votes, which only made up 10 percent of the total ballots.
“When we closed the polls and sorted the ballots into two piles - yes and no, it was clear what the answer was before counting them,” Linda Svihovec, a member of the election committee said. “I could feel throughout the whole voting day the enthusiasm the majority of the voters had for the school project and our community.”
Superintendent Steve Holen said, “I am very pleased with the results of the vote. It’s tremendous to receive such support for the school district from the community with the strong vote passage.”
Myra Anderson, head of the Vote Yes Committee, said her team pushed for this bond for the past couple of months, and all of their hard work has paid off. Their goal was to get as many ‘yes’ votes as possible, and it seems they had plenty to win the election.
“We pushed the ball over the goal line and won,” Anderson said. “More importantly, we won the future for our kids and our town. We will now build a new high school and keep our kids in the best learning environment.”
Svihovec said voters openly expressed positive feedback at the polls and she had a feeling the bond would pass by a very large majority, along with the other three election committee members, Frances Olson, Erica Johnsrud and Donna Rauser.
“This clearly shows the support for our education system and the efforts of our school district and community to be proactive with the upcoming growth and ensure a high quality education for our current and future students,” Holen said. “It’s a proud time to be part of the community and school district.”
In order for this bond to pass, a 60 percent ‘yes’ vote was necessary. If it would have failed, the district would have been forced to make room for nearly 18 portable buildings by the 2015 school year to accommodate growth.
As the district stands now, its schools are already overpopulated and are just about at capacity. By next year, the classrooms will be over capacity without a couple portables at the elementary school.
“Now is the time to move forward with the construction and ensure we provide the highest quality facility with the bond amount provided to us from the public,” Holen said.
The new 800 capacity, state-of-the-art high school will house grades seventh through twelfth. The existing high school will be adjusted for grades fourth through sixth, and the current elementary school will be kindergarten through third grade.
“That keeps all of our kids out of portables,” Anderson said. “The new high school plans will give us excellent facilities for many years. We are building for the future as well as today.”
According to Holen, the support from the community the district has received has reassured them that they are moving in the right direction.
“We are ready to address the growth head on,” Holen said. “The work of the Vote Yes Committee and the general support from the community helped shine a positive light on our area statewide and further show how our community and county have come together to support education and address the challenges of our growth proactively.”
“A new high school is one of those projects the people in this community understand will make this a better place to live,” Svihovec said. “When we moved here 28 years ago, we were on a two-year plan. We were going to live here long enough to get jobs in Bismarck and move there to raise our family. I have never regretted that we made the decision to stay in Watford City and make this our home.”
“The ‘yes’ vote reminded me of that,” Svihovec continued. “And reinforced for me why we are still here. It makes me proud to be a part of this community.”
Finalizing schematic designs and beginning the development phase are the next steps for the school district. Holen said site and civil work will begin in the next couple of months after the land donation has been finalized.
“A letter of intent from Steve Stenehjem to donate the land for the use of a school gives us the right to move forward with the land preparation,” Wyatt Voll, school district attorney, said. “We waited until after the election to get the deed to the property.”
For the next eight weeks or so, the schematic design will be tweaked to perfection and a 3D rendering will be made.
“We will have a package everyone is comfortable with, both size-wise and financially,” JLG Architect Doug Larson said. “With the amount of dirt that needs to be moved on the site, we need to have an earth worker out there no later than May to get it ready for building.”
Besides the $27 million bond, other confirmed funding for the school  project is coming from the School Construction Loan, the Bank of North Dakota loan, an Impact Grant, and the Special Assessment District.
“On behalf of the school district school board, administration, and staff, I would like to thank the patrons of the school district for their unprecedented support with the election on March 11,” Holen said. “The outcome of the vote is what makes our school district community a great place to live and to raise a family.”