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School taking baby steps toward new elementary school

Posted 11/03/15 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

For the last three years, the McKenzie County School District No. 1 has been behind the eight-ball when it came to having enough classroom space for its ever-growing elementary school student numbers.
Even after adding an $11.5 million addition onto the existing elementary school in 2013, the school district was forced to use portable classrooms to house the more than 600 students that the district had in kindergarten through the sixth grade. And in 2014, even when the district decided to move the sixth grade into the high school, the problems of overcrowding and the need for portable classrooms still existed.
So when the Watford City Elementary School’s enrollment numbers topped 854 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade at the start of school in the fall of 2015, the big question facing the school board was what do they do next.
Does the district continue to pack the students into a building that is best designed to accommodate 400 students? Does the district continue to utilize more and more mobile classrooms? Or do they bite the bullet and begin the process of looking at the possibility of building an additional elementary school to accommodate its growth in student numbers?
The school board and administrators have a short-term solution to its overcrowding problem at the elementary school come January when the new high school opens. At that time, the district plans to only have kindergarten through the third grades in the current elementary school, and move grades four through six into the existing high school.
But the long-term fear for Steve Holen, district superintendent, is that even that move could just be another short-term fix based on the district’s enrollment projections.
Which is why the school board is slowly investigating the prospect of building a new elementary school.
“The board is not getting ahead of itself when it comes to a new elementary school,” states Holen. “The board has not identified a project yet.”
But with that said, Holen says the board has approved the hiring of the architectural firm of JLG to do some initial planning work on a new elementary school. Additionally, at its Oct. 19 meeting, the board approved advertising for a Contract Manager At Risk (CMR) for the new school.
“What we are looking for by hiring an architect and CMR at this time is to get help with the pre-planning phase and to start getting cost estimates,” states Holen. “We need to have this information so that we can share it with the public if, based on new enrollment projections, the board decides to move forward with a new school..”
According to Holen, the district is expecting to receive new enrollment projections at its January 2016 board meeting.