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School closer to finalizing expansion plans

Posted 2/22/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

Students in McKenzie County are having to sit a little bit closer together than they were before. Current attendance numbers show 413 students in the elementary school and 321 students in the junior high and high school. That puts the entire district at 734 students. Teachers and students alike are still experiencing the high standards and expectations that McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 is known for. But with people pouring into the area from all over the country, they are having to do so with a lot less space.
McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 has been working the past few months with ICON Architectural Group to assess the district’s expansion needs. The district realized last fall that it would need professional help in determining how its schools will need to adjust in order to accommodate all the new students.
The district will be meeting with ICON before the end of February to hear the company’s recommendations and projections on what McKenize County’s schools will require for improvements to current buildings and the possibility of building new ones.
“We now know that proactive steps are going to have to happen,” says Steve Holen, District No. 1 superintendent. “We are just waiting now to see if more buildings are going to be necessary.”
Once district officials have met with ICON and considered its recommendations, they will then join a Watford City City Council Meeting in March which will present a projected population estimate compiled by North Dakota State University (NDSU). The district plans to gauge its own attendance estimates off NDSU’s findings.
“Right now it’s a guessing game,” says Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board member. “We just don’t know how many students we’ll get or how fast they’ll be here.”
The only concrete plan that the district has now is to move the sixth grade into the high school building. That means that three teachers will be moving with them and three more classrooms will become available for additional sections of kindergarten and first and second grade. This will bring those three grades up to four sections each.
The move could also require hiring an assistant principal at the high school to manage the enlarged student population, which according to Holen, the district is currently considering. Other hirings will include three new teachers for the additional sections of kindergarten and first and second grade, as well as the possibility of two new teachers at the high school. More hirings will also be necessary to fill the positions of those teachers and administrators who are retiring this summer.
But more teachers also creates a need for more housing. Holen says that the district is seriously considering options for providing housing for its employees. Otherwise, they might not be able to get enough of the educators they need.
“The district doesn’t want to have to buy trailer homes or apartments,” says Samuelson. “But it is looking more and more like we might have to because it’s so hard to find affordable housing.”
The classroom is not the only place where students are feeling the space crunch, however. Gym space is quickly becoming hard to come by. Physical education classes are overfilled and practice times are stacked up for hours after school.
“There have been positive effects on extracurriculars,” says Holen. “More involvement has allowed many activities to grow and increased their funding. But more growth, mainly for sports, would force us to take action and make more space available for our students.”
Despite all the growth, however, the Wolves Athletic Department does not need to worry about any district-wide classification changes just yet. Though football will be moving to Class AA for the 2013 season, moving an entire school up to Class A requires a high school population of 325, and currently Watford City High School has 214 students.
McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 will be working hard in the next few months to make critical decisions about what will be done this summer. Whether it is moving classrooms, building improvements, new buildings, or employee housing, June through August should be a very busy time for the district.
District officials will be presenting all the findings and plans to students and their families this spring. Though the date is not yet set, the presentation will include definitive plans on how the district will react to growth for the next three to five years. More information on that meeting will be available as plans are finalized. Until then everyone in District No. 1 is going to have to continue to use space wisely.