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Voters to decide fate of new school

Posted 3/04/14 (Tue)

By Stephanie Norman
Farmer Staff Writer

In less than one week, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 will be executing the plans for a new high school or starting at square one, by planning on how to fit approximately 18 portable buildings on the two existing campuses by 2015.
Between the three presentations held at the final public forum on Feb. 26, there were roughly 85 community members present - learning more about the bond, the new high school proposal and what happens if the bond fails.
Superintendent Steve Holen and JLG Architect Lonnie Laffen spearheaded the presentation, which was a configuration of the final plans, results from previous forums, and a question and answer session with the audience.
“The public input meetings were attempts to ensure the community had the opportunity to be involved and informed throughout the planning process,” Holen said. “We received very positive feedback through the process and hope the community is comfortable with the amount of time and consideration spent on this project, as well as the benefit it can have on our students and the community.”
According to the student population growth numbers for the school district, there were supposed to be roughly 972 students enrolled during the present school year. But the district currently has 1,070.
The enrollment predictions have proven to be low, not just this year, but for the last several years.
For the 2014-2015 school year, the growth numbers are estimated to be 1,103 students. And Holen said the district is so close now, that they are bound to go over before next year. Which means the student-to-teacher ratio will only increase, the buildings will be at capacity, and the district will be forced to set up portable buildings.
What many community members are asking is where will the portable buildings go?
Holen said the only place capable of housing portable buildings, on either of the existing campuses, would be the parking lots. That’s right, there will be no more parking at the schools if portable buildings are taking over the parking lots.
With 1,260 students (if not more) projected for the 2015 school year, the district would need nearly 18 portable buildings to accommodate their needs, according to Holen. And that doesn’t include more bathrooms for the students because there are no bathrooms in portable buildings.
“The elementary and high school will run out of room by 2015,” Laffen said. “That’s why it’s so important to build right now. The district has figured the best solution is without using portables.”
“I believe it’s important for the community to understand the school district has doubled its student population in the last three years,” Holen said. “This is the first time the board has come to the community and asked for a vote regarding school construction. The district has worked with its current facilities and resources to make the adjustments up to this point and to accommodate growth; however, we have reached the point where our resources and options are no longer available to continue and meet the demand.”
The 161,000-square foot, state-of-the-art building would include a 525 seat auditorium; a double gym for physical education classes as well as sporting events with seating on all four sides; a cardio and weight room; a wrestling room; a media center; plenty of locker space; a cafeteria; and a three-story academic wing with all of the classrooms.
At this point, the plans include a football field, but the school building is top priority.
With a total of $50 million, the district wants to offer the students an extraordinary learning environment,  Holen said, which would be ready for move-in the school year of 2015 if the bond is passed.
“If this bond doesn’t pass there is no ‘back-pocket bond amount,” Holen said. “The board would have to reevaluate portable options, which is an option. But not a wise one.”
Laffen said, “It’s unusual to be able to build a school and only have to ask for half of the money through a bond.”
Other states don’t have the opportunity to get grants for building schools simply because of an oil boom. Nearly half of the money the district is asking for is not included in the bond amount of $27 million.
“The community can be assured the board has protected their tax investments closely and has been fiscally responsible in its efforts to address growth up to this point,” Holen said. “The school district is coming forward and saying we now need your assistance and here is the outcome of much planning that leads us to this project.”
According to the board members, they are confident this plan of action will uphold the growth for many years to come.
“The high school project and its cost have been reviewed thoroughly,” Holen said. “The board believes the current project being proposed meets the educational needs of the students today and into the future.”
For more information about the new high school or the bond referendum, visit the school web site at watford-city.k12.nd.us, under the ‘school election information’ tab.
Absentee ballots are available until the official polling day on the school web site and in the district office. The vote on the $27 million bond is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, at the Watford City Elementary School Gymnasium.