Posted 5/17/16 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
By a 4-3 split vote, on Tuesday, May 10, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board decided to spend an additional $140,000 to have a design ready for a possible new elementary school on the shelf and ready to go to construction.
While the board has not yet decided to proceed with a new elementary school project, their action makes it possible for the board to react quickly in the event that the district’s K-5 enrollment continues to grow.
According to JLG and Construction Engineers, who was hired by the district to complete the pre-planning process for the potential new school, spending the $140,000 now will put the district in the position of being able to move forward quickly on construction of the new school if needed.
The new elementary school, which would be located in the Homestead subdivision on the north side of Watford City, would be an 88,000-square foot, 2½ to 3-story facility that would have a 650 student capacity and cost approximately $27.8 million.
“The board hasn’t yet said that there is going to be a new elementary school,” stated Steve Holen, district superintendent. “At the present time, all we have is donated land for the new school.”
According to Holen, the district’s enrollment projections indicate that by 2018, the existing elementary school will run out of space for additional students.
“We still have capacity in our existing schools for more students,” stated Holen. “But if we do see our student numbers continue to increase based on those projections, we may find ourselves being forced to use portable classrooms again.”
Which was one reason why Gary Bruins, board member, was in favor of spending the extra planning money now.
“Things aren’t dropping, we’re flat-lined right now,” stated Bruins. “We’re not seeing the uptick in the economy. But if we spend the $140,000 now and then our fall enrollment comes in on projection, we would be in position to have a November election to ask the voters to approve a building referendum.”
According to JLG and Construction Engineers, if the district should decide to have a fall 2017 referendum, they would have time to finish the final building designs and be ready for a spring construction.
“The first trigger on whether or not we need an additional elementary school will be our fall enrollment number,” stated Holen. “If that enrollment tracks our projections, it’s one thing. But if our enrollment falls under projections, we may have more time.”
Another concern for Holen with moving forward with planning a new school in the Homestead subdivision is the lack of development that is occurring in that subdivision.
“We need to see more development activity in that subdivision before we build a school there,” stated Holen.
But for Nikki \, board member, investing the money now in a building plan may be in the district’s best interest.
“The worst that can happen is that we spend the money and then decide not to proceed with the project,” stated Johnsrud.