October 21, 2014

Work begins on new high school

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With footings and foundation work underway for the new Watford City High School, members of the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 School Board spent last Monday discussing options that they have to increase the maximum capacity of the school to 800 students, as well as what options they would like to add back into the school.
According to Steve Holen, district superintendent, as a result of the first two major bid packages coming in $221,000 under estimate, the district now has the ability to consider putting back alternatives, such as installing a sound barrier between the gymnasium and the theatre.
“We’re pleased to see the first two bid packages, totalling $15.5 million, come in under our estimates,” stated Holen. “This means that we are going to be able to add back some of the items that we believe are important.”
The additional concrete wall between the gymnasium and the theatre was the first item to be added back to the project.
While the cost of the sound barrier is estimated to cost $147,000, the board felt that it had no choice but to do the work now.
“This is one item that we can’t add later,” stated Holen. “We either do it now or not at all.”
With mass grading on the new high school site now completed, according to Holen, construction has begun on the site, which is located in the Fox Hills Subdivision east of Watford City.
“It is extremely exciting to see construction on the new high school start,” states Holen. “Work on the footings and foundation will take about five weeks and then we will start to see things go vertical.”
Holen estimates that vertical construction will begin by mid-November with the precast walls starting to go up in January.
“We are on track to having the new school finished by December of 2015,” states Holen.
But, while the new school is on target to opening on schedule, Holen and the board are concerned that it will not be large enough to handle the anticipated number of students.
Currently, because of budget constraints, the new high school will only have classrooms for 600 students, which will be 200 students short of what the district estimates that it will need by the time the building is ready to open.
“We’ve submitted a $380,000 Energy Impact Grant to provide the funds to complete the needed classrooms,” stated Holen. “Finishing those rooms is critical. We don’t want to open the new high school and then have to educate 200 students in portable classrooms.”
During the Oct. 13 meeting, Holen also informed the board that the district’s enrollment is hovering in the 1,307 student range.
“We currently only have three grades (10, 11 and 12) that are less than 90 students,” stated Holen. “If we have a concern right now with space, it is in our fifth grade.”
With the district’s enrollment continuing to grow, Holen noted that RSP will be presenting its new district enrollment projections in January.
“We’re currently outpacing the demographic study that we had done,” stated Holen. “In essence, we have lost the two years that we thought we would have to come up with a plan to meet the growth in students.”
In order to meet the continuing growth of students, the board also approved moving forward with requesting proposals for land for a new elementary school.
“Finding land for a new elementary school will be a major consideration,” stated Holen. “It may be advantageous for us to start looking at land options and to begin preliminary talks with architects for a new school.”
During Monday night’s meeting, Holen also informed the board, that with the high school enrollment over 325 students, the district has officially begun its two year transition to Class A sports.
“While we haven’t heard anything official yet from the North Dakota High School Activities Association,” stated Holen,  “we anticipate beginning to play Class A sports with the start of the 2016-2017 school year.”