February 9, 2016

New high school set to open

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The finale of the new Watford City High School is finally upon us. It is a milestone for a community that has boomed and filled up with children from all over the world. And it’s a milestone that shows the perseverance of a community that has evolved on the stage of an oil boom.
As the completion of the project is at the tips of our fingers, the students, the teachers, the administration, the construction crew, and the community are all anxiously awaiting the grand opening of the state-of-the-art school on Monday, Feb. 15.
“I’m very excited for the new high school,” said Watford City High School Senior Alli Mogen. “My grandpa was here when our current school was brand new and now I’m going to be going to the new high school when it’s brand new. My family has been here forever. I’m excited to be part of the first graduating class in the new high school.”
Not only are students eager to get into the new building, but that feeling has been shared by everyone who has worked endless hours on the massive project. Kraus-Anderson and Construction Engineers joined together as a joint venture on the project.
“I’ll be tickled pink when the kids are able to come to their new school,” said Bill Blair, project superintendent for Kraus-Anderson Construction Engineers. “It’s not just about building something - it’s very personal to me. It’ll be a good feeling for the kids to be in the new building.”
“This has kind of been a unique experience for me,” added Ron Shatto, area superintendent with Kraus-Anderson Construction Engineers. “We’ve all helped each other out and we’ve all worked together on this project.”
Blair added that the joint venture with Kraus-Anderson and Construction Engineers has been what they term a ‘team.’
“We’ve worked together well,” stated Blair. “All of us have our responsibilities. Our two companies have functioned well together. Our field operations have done a great job, and everyone has been working together to get this school up and running. We’ve been able to forge ahead well. And from here on out, we’ll be working through the night to make sure it’s ready to open on Feb. 15.”
  The new high school is an icon for a community that has experienced the growing pains of a population that increased 10-fold. It’s a symbol of all the hard work and dedication a community put forth to help meet the needs of an ever-expanding student population. A population that was bursting at the seams.
“There will be a lot more space to utilize in the new building,” stated Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District #1 superintendent. “And we will be able to hold more events. It will be a building that will reflect 30 years of transition and growth. It’s a building where we get to modernize our approach to how we’re teaching our students today. Over the past 30 years, things have really changed.”
Holen said they were able to make design decisions with the new high school and new construction that would benefit both the students and the staff. One of those design decisions was to have top security.
“The entry to the building will be a controlled entry of which visitors will need to be buzzed into the school itself via the main office,” stated Holen. “This is a major improvement from our current system, and the general location of the office makes for a higher security system compared to the location of the current high school. The classroom doors will be capable of being locked from the inside of the classroom, which is also something that is not possible in the current high school and is important during emergency/lock-down situations.”
Holen says the teachers will also have access to an emergency call from their classroom directly to the main office in case of a major emergency in their classroom or hallways. In general, states Holen, he, the school administration, and the construction/design team believe that the security measures and visibility of the building via the exterior windows will improve the overall security of students and staff.
With 600 students enrolled in the existing Watford City High School, there is no denying that those students have been feeling cramped in a much smaller space. The existing high school building, built in 1985, is only 120,000 square feet, with a capacity of 500 to 600 students. With that capacity fully maxed out, students are undeniably looking forward to the transition into their new high school facility.
“I’m excited about how we’re upgrading,” stated Kyle Foster, Watford City High School seventh-grader. “I was here in elementary school and I was excited when I got to move to this high school building. Now I get to move to the new high school building. I get to spend five years in the new building before I graduate. I’m also excited to see how the football field turns out, the new logos, and the new basketball courts. But the girls are the best thing about school!”
The new high school will boast several features and upgrades including a new full-fledged theatre with an orchestra pit, a larger gym, a student grill area, a student school store, updated Vocational Agriculture  and Family Consumer Science Departments, five computer lab classrooms, several commons areas for team teaching and collaboration, several teacher office/working spaces, an extensive amount of parking for both students and staff, and an underground walkway to the new Event Center.
“Each classroom in the current high school had a SMART board and projector,” stated Holen. “This was replaced with the TV monitors in the new high school. The use of the SMART board in most of the curriculums was similar to the use of a monitor with an Apple TV connection.”
“So we decided to go with monitors, which will provide for better visibility and greater reliability compared to the projectors and boards that would need maintenance over time with bulb replacements and calibration,” added Holen. “Some of the monitors will have an added feature of interactive capability, such as the math department, which also provides the interactive component found with the older SMART boards with the high-quality TV monitor.”
In addition to the 80-inch flat screen TVs in each classroom, another highlight of the new high school is the multi-media room. According to Holen, the room was designed for a larger classroom setting via team teaching and cross-curricular opportunities.
“The room allows for two social studies teachers to jointly teach a unit to students or for a social studies and English teacher to team teach students with a topic relevant to both subject areas,” Holen states. “It is also designed for technology with the built-in outlets and internet connections and potential use of distance learning via an ITV system for students taking classes from other schools.”
Overall, Holen says that the room was designed to bring an element of post-secondary environments to the students that will be going to college after high school, and to provide some of that atmosphere at the high school level. It is a flexible room that has many opportunities for enhancing the education of high school students. The teachers, according to Holen, are very excited about the potential use of the room.
“I’m going to love to go to the new school,” said William Elliot, another seventh grade Watford City High School student. “I can’t wait to play football on the new football field and I can’t wait to be able to play hockey on the new hockey rinks when the Event Center opens next to the school. We’ll be able to play sports year-round. And I’m excited about how big the cafeteria is going to be.”
Along with all the new, updated technology throughout the school and the extra space within the classrooms, the Cardio/weight room, wrestling room, locker room areas, and the Home Ec areas will also be substantially larger, adding to the overall success of the students.
“The Cardio/weight room is substantially bigger - approximately twice the size,” said Holen. “The wrestling room is also substantially larger than the current one. The school has approximately 250 more student lockers due to the larger capacity. The Home Ec area will be close to the current size of the two separate rooms in the current high school. However, they are now combined and will provide more flexiblity and efficiency with the Family Consumer Science curriculum and supervision of students.”
According to Brad Harvey, senior project manager for Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, a great deal of design and planning went into the high-tech structure.
“All doors have alarms and indicators, so if one has been left open, it will notify the alarm system within the school,” stated Harvey. “And there are security cameras at each entrance. Every classroom has an 80-inch flat screen TV and there will be a 12-foot by 12-foot electric monitor in the cafeteria.”
There are some main differences between the new high school building and the old high school building, says Blair. They include more commons areas, a lot of natural light, high ceilings, all LED light fixtures, and an extensive amount of parking.
“Not only are there huge differences inside the building, there are exterior differences as well,” Blair stated. “The students will have a lot of open space and grass. They will be able to see a lot, as they won’t be ‘penned’ in. And the students and staff will have breathtaking views.”
Once the transition takes place, a crowded 725-student elementary school will become a less-packed building with approximately 550 to 600 students in grades K-3. And there will be about 300 to 350 students in the new high school building.
“I’m looking forward to having bigger classrooms and more space,” stated Levi Sanford, seventh-grader at Watford City High School. “I’m excited about the new basketball courts and how everything has changed. I was here before the oil boom happened, so I’ve see everything change.”
The long-term goal, according to Holen, is to have the old high school building operate and function as a true middle school, which will serve a middle-level range of students from grades 6-8. But for the time-being, the old high school will become an expanded elementary school for grades 4-6. Plans are already being discussed by the school board regarding a second elementary school so the former high school can become a middle school.
“I’ve been a football player for four years and I’m really excited for the new football field,” stated Tate Lapierre, another seventh-grader at Watford City High School. “I’m really excited to move into the new high school building.”
At noon on Monday, Feb. 15, there will be a dedication of the new high school building with the student body hosting tours for the community. Then, the new 1,500-capacity gym will be opened for the very first time to host the District 15 Girls Basketball Tournament Championship game.
“We are hosting the championship night of the District 15 Girls Basketball Tournament at the new high school,” stated Holen. “The goal was to have the entire tournament at this site, however, we were unable to get the gym ready for the first and second rounds.”
“We wanted to make the new gym part of the tournament in some way, and the ability to host it the same day as our open house became available, and we thought it would help to make the open house date that much more exciting,” added Holen. “It was another opportunity to provide a memory for our girls basketball team in playing the first event in our new school.”
The next day, Feb. 16, approximately 500 students in grades 7-12 will be welcomed into their new $53 million, 167,000-square foot school building to settle in and begin their studies for the first day in their new building.   
“The high school project is an investment in the youth of our community that will pay dividends for many years to come,” stated Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. “The kids have put in their dues in crowded classrooms and hallways for the last five years. I am most excited for the fourth and fifth-graders and their teachers who get to move from  modulars into the new Intermediate School.”
Sanford says the students have only known overcrowding for their entire time in elementary school, so will surely welcome the space they encounter in the former high school building.
“Thanks and congratulations need to go out to the School Board, Superintendent Holen, and the school administration and staff as well,” said Sanford. “This is another milestone day for Watford City. It doesn’t happen very often. This is only our third high school building. We went 65 years between our first two high school buildings and 30 years since the last one was completed. So we might not see another high school constructed in town for awhile.”
“The community is going to like the facility, I’m sure,” stated Chad Larson, project manager with Kraus-Anderson Construction Company. “There’s some really cool things in it. It’ll be a great space for the high school and the community. It’s an exciting project.”
“I don’t think there is one area in particular that is most exciting about the new high school,” states Holen. “The entire building and the various areas provide an opportunity to improve on our current facility. While our current high school is a great facility, the design improvements over the last 30 years can provide for a more efficient and student-friendly environment that ultimately improves the educational opportunities of our students.”
“As the building nears completion, it is satisfying to think of all the impacts it will have on students now and in the future, and the opportunities it will bring our community for decades to come,” added Holen. “I believe this facility is worthy of community pride and will stand the test of time as a high-quality facility.”