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School to ask voters to approve building bond

Posted 1/22/14 (Wed)

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

At the Monday, Jan. 13, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 school board meeting, the board approved moving forward with a $31.5 million dollar bond for the new high school in the Fox Hills development. Now it’s up to the school district’s taxpayers to make the final vote.
The total cost for the 168,000-square foot high school building project is projected to be $54 million, which would include five to six classrooms per core-curricular area; a gymnasium with about a 2,000 person capacity and at least three stations for classes; a theatre - otherwise known as a media center - with a capacity of 500; along with outdoor sporting fields.
“We are also getting funding outside of the bond so we are not directly putting it all on taxpayers,” Superintendent Steve Holen said.
According to the project finance report, which was presented at the January meeting, approximately $20.5 million is to come from available loans and grants. A few other options include dipping into the school’s building funds, Impact Fund revenue, as well as possible donations or help from the city of Watford City.
Kraus-Anderson Construction Company has been hired as the contractor who will be working with JLG Architects to come up with the plans.
“Based on the information we have been given and the week we have had to put these plans together, we feel comfortable with this number ($54 million),” JLG Project Manager Doug Larson said.
Holen said he hopes they can get the infrastructure paid for through the Special Assessment District without going against the city’s debt limit.
“It’s likely a no-brainer that it would work,” School Attorney Wyatt Voll said. “It would be a good way to pay for it if the city agrees to it.”
Residents of the school district are probably wondering how much money this is going to cost them out of their own pocketbooks.
The project finance report shows that with a $30 million bond, it would annually cost residents $104.19 per $100,000 house. That would come down to $8.86 monthly.
On the first survey the school district released, 78 percent of the people voted for option three, which entailed a new combined high-and-middle school for 800 students (grades 7-12); conversion of the existing high school to an intermediate school for 600 students (grades 4-6); and to dedicate the current elementary school to young learners for 600 students (grades K-3).
“I am just trying to play the devil’s advocate,” Holen said. “The public wants classrooms for every student; no portables. That’s why they voted for option three.”
In order for the people to get what they voted for, the school board needs those same people to vote yes for the bond.
“This entire project is going to cost $54 million,” school board member Heather Wisness said. “And we’re only asking taxpayers for $30 million of it. Instead of looking at the number as a whole, look at how much it will be per month.”
The school board isn’t looking to inconvenience anyone; they simply want to better prepare themselves and the school district for future growth.
“The goal of the board is to minimize the impact on the students and school district,” Holen said. “We want to spread out the population and avoid portable buildings and classrooms with too many students. We want to make this transition as seamless as possible. Right now, our city has a top-notch facility for the area and a sense of pride.”
With the land donated by Steve Stenehjem, there will be enough acreage for expansion in the future. As of right now, the district is finalizing plans of what will go where on the land. There is indeed a spot allotted for a new football field. However, the board agrees that the education building is without-a-doubt the more important of priorities. With the old football stadium still in good shape, they will get first priorities built before constructing another stadium.
“We can make due with our current football field because we need a new facility,” Holen said. “We will build a new building which will allow room for expansion later. The number one goal is to get the kids in a facility where we can educate them.”
Vice President of Kraus-Anderson, Terry Hart  doesn’t want to shoot too low in numbers, which would cost the district more later.
“When we give you a number this early, we aren’t going to give you a number that won’t stand up to the project later,” Hart said at the meeting.
A vote on the $31.5 million bond issue will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, at the Watford City Elementary School gymnasium. Absentee ballots will be available 40 days prior to the election. They must be requested by visiting the school web site or by visiting the main office.