Posted 4/25/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
It wasn’t all that many years ago, when faced with a decade of declining enrollment, that the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 School Board was giving very serious consideration to the closing of the Watford City Elementary School. At that time, school administrators believed that all of the district’s students could be housed in the high school building.
However, the days of declining enrollment are gone. Today, the elementary school is literally busting at the seams with students. So many students in fact, that last year the school board approved remodeling plans that added more classrooms at the expense of eliminating the band and computer rooms, as well as doing away with the teacher workrooms.
But even those changes weren’t enough as the student numbers increased to the point that the lunchroom, kitchen and gymnasium weren’t adequate to handle the number of students crammed into the school.
To help ease the pressure, the district also made the decision that beginning next fall the sixth grade class will be moved to the high school.
But all those fixes were just short-term fixes to a much bigger problem.
The real solution, if the district’s projections of having 600 students in the elementary school in the future are correct, required the district to either build a new building or to completely remodel the existing structure.
And on Monday, April 16 during its regular meeting, the school board gave ICON architects the go-ahead to complete its formal construction plan for a 35,000-square foot addition onto the existing elementary school, as well as renovating the existing structure.
According to Steve Holen, district superintendent, the $8 million project would include four classrooms, a new kitchen and cafeteria area, a library, two music rooms, two computer labs, a new administration office and entryway area, and a new gymnasium.
“The elementary school has to become a long-term building,” states Holen. “With these building plans we are trying to fix the ills we had as we outgrew the elementary school.”
Under the plans, the current gymnasium will become the new lunchroom and the current lunchroom will become the kitchen area.
Holen is hopeful that the plans will be ready for a June bid opening and that if an acceptable bid is received and awarded, the new elementary school will be ready by August of 2013.
While the school board is moving forward with the elementary school project, Holen recognizes there is some risk if enrollment falls off.
“If we don’t grow like we anticipate, the worst case scenario is we just upgraded the building,” Holen told school board members on Monday. “The only other option that we have to meet our current needs is to use more portable classrooms. And that is an option that the public doesn’t want.”
Holen also assured the school board that the entire project cost would be funded from the district’s revenues.
During Monday night’s meeting, Holen also shared with the board a proposal by a private firm that is looking to build housing in the community. According to Holen, the company would provide apartments to the district if it would provide up-front money that would guarantee them units.