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City says new high school should be east

Posted 11/20/13 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

For the better part of two hours,  the landowners and developers of two parcels of land tried to sway the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board on the benefits of building Watford City’s new high school on their sites during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
But, in the end, it is what Curt Moen, Watford City’s city planner, had to say that may have been the real deal-breaker as to where the new high school will be built.
“You have two very good sites to choose from,” stated Moen. “But the decision is going to come down to the dollars that have to be assigned to the development.”
And, according to Moen, the costs of upgrading the road system as well as the water and sewer service to serve the north site, which is located on the Holm property, far exceeds those associated with the east site.
“The main issue with the north site will be access when the school opens,” stated Moen. “There is between $15 and $20 million in just road construction costs alone to get proper access to the north site.”
On the other hand, there are not those road costs associated with the Fox Hills site on the east side of the city.
“The North Dakota Dept. of Transportation (NDDOT) will be changing Highway 23, which passes in front of the site, into a business route once the new bypass is constructed,” stated Moen. “That means that the NDDOT will be paying the costs to convert that roadway into either a three- or five-lane road.”
Plus, according to Moen, the cost of bringing city sewer service to the northern site would be at the school district’s expense, while sewer service will soon be at the east site. In addition, according to Moen, rural water service is available at the east location, and is not currently available to the north site.
For those reasons, the city, according to Moen, has issues with the school district choosing to build its new high school on the north site.
“I don’t know if the school district has the appetite to bite off a $15 to $20 million cost to upgrade service to the north location,” stated Moen. “Looking only at the dollars involved, the east site is the only site the city sees as being feasible.”
According to Steve Holen, district superintendent, the owners of both of the parcels of land are willing to donate approximately 40 acres of land to the district for the construction of the new high school.
East Location
The east location for the new high school is located in the Fox Hills development east of Watford City on the south side of U.S. Highway 23. And according to Steve Stenehjem, owner of the property, the site is ideal for a new school.
“This property has high visibility and ease of access,” stated Stenehjem. “And once the state finishes the Highway 23 Bypass and improves U.S. Highway 23 into town, access will get even better.”
Stenehjem also noted that Fox Hills, which is currently being developed as a master plan community, will have 3,000 people living in the development. And with 3,000 to 4,000 people projected to live in the Hunter’s Run development to the east of Fox Hills, there will be approximately 6,000 people living in the immediate area.
“You want the major buildings of a community to be seen and easy to get to,” stated Stenehjem. “This site offers that.”
And with the east site virtually undeveloped, David Layton, who is currently constructing two apartment complexes in Fox Hills, says there is flexibility as to where the new school could be sited.
North Location
The north site is located on property owned by the Holm family north of Watford City on the west side of Main Street.
According to Diane (Holm) Gariety, who owns the property along with other members of the Holm family, stated that in addition to donating the land for the new school, the family is willing to make the site ready for construction.
“We are offering a potential savings of $2 to $4 million to the district by doing the initial dirt work,” stated Gariety.
According to Bill Vitek of Dig Studio, who is working with the Holms to develop their property, the site is ideal because it is located within 1½  miles of the majority of the student population in Watford City, and has a network of roadways that would provide easy access to the school.
“The site has no issues, such as flood plain, that could extend federal approval,” stated Vitek. “And it has better access for students and staff to get to Main Street, South Park and to be able to go home for lunch.”
In addition, the Holms’ property is also located in the midst of several housing developments: the Blue Bison development, Pheasant Ridge and The Highlands.
“The north site is ideally located for development,” stated Adam Berger of The Highlands. “It is a perfect extension of the community and it is where housing is going to be built. People are going to want to live near the high school.”
Board To Make Final Decision
While the school board took no action during last Tuesday night’s meeting, according to Holen, the final decision needs to be made shortly.
“The district is in the enviable situation of having two very quality sites to choose from,” states Holen. “We now just need to decide which will be the one.”
Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, the board received retirement notifications from Kathleen Johnson, high school guidance counselor and Nancy Deutsch, high school physical education teacher.
The board also approved submitting a $1.5 million County Infrastructure Fund application to the McKenzie County Commissioners for the purchase of new busses and vehicles.