Posted 12/16/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
A special Christmas present came early this year for the McKenzie County Public School No. 1 in the form of a $10 million construction loan from the Bank of North Dakota for the construction of the district’s new high school.
According to Steven Holen, district superintendent, he was informed of the availability of the loan from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) last week.
“The $10 million low interest loan is a big part of our financing package for the new Watford City High School,” states Holen. “We will get $7 million immediately, with the remaining $3 million coming after the legislative session.”
Holen expects the board to pass a resolution approving the $10 million loan, which is guaranteed at a one percent interest rate for 20 years, at a special meeting on Dec. 18.
“The loan is definitely good news for the school district,” states Holen.
According to Holen, the district now has $37 million in hand in forms of loans, as well as $4.3 million in state impact grants to pay for the construction of the new high school.
“We still have an $8.3 million shortfall in financing,” states Holen. “The board is looking at selling an additional $6.5 million in school bonds, which will leave $2.5 million in funding unaccounted for.”
But Holen is confident that the final financing will come together.
“We can get to the $50 million,” states Holen. “The problem is how the district is going to make the bond payments. The board just has to approve those options.”
While the school board is wrapping up its financing options, construction has already begun on the new $50 million, 800-student capacity high school, which is located in the Fox Hills Subdivision on the east side of Watford City.
“The contractors have been putting in 13-hour days as they work on the footings,” states Holen. “The mild temperatures in December have definitely helped keep the project on schedule.”
According to Holen, steel for the new school will begin to arrive shortly, and he expects to see the precast walls going up in February.
“When that happens and people start seeing the new school going vertical, it will be exciting,” states Holen.
While the construction of the new high school has been taking a lion’s share of the school board’s discussions over the past year, the board is now shifting its attention to the potential need for a second elementary school.
“The Holm family has indicated that they are willing to donate 15 acres of land in the Homestead Subdivision for a new elementary school,” states Holen. “We expect that transfer of land to happen in February. And once that occurs, we can begin the planning process.”
Holen says that while the school district does not currently have a new elementary school project, that could change once the board receives the new enrollment number projections at its January meeting.
“As we look at a new elementary school, we have to look at how many students we want in our existing elementary school,” states Holen.
During the Dec. 9 meeting, Holen also informed the board that the governor’s budget includes several key components, that if approved by the Legislature, will help the district.
“The 60-40 split in oil funds will get us more money,” stated Holen. “We can expect to see our Gross Production Tax dollars to double from $2.3 million to $5.6 million.”
But, according to Holen, because of the way that the State DPI computes per pupil payments, the district will not receive all of those funds.
“The DPI imputes our oil tax revenues,” states Holen. “In other words, they take away 75 percent of those dollars from our per pupil payment. So, at the end of the day, we will only see a $1.4 million net increase in funding.”
Which is why Holen is hoping that legislation will be passed this legislative session that will allow the district to keep 100 percent of its oil revenues.
“Our problem is still with building schools in the oil patch,” states Holen. “We need to be able to use our Gross Production Tax dollars to do that.”
According to Holen, the governor’s budget also includes $300 million in school construction loans and $430 million in impact funds.
“If the Legislature approves the new school construction loans, it won’t help us with our new high school project,” states Holen. “But it would help with us building a new elementary school.”