Watford City High School

Watford City, North Dakota

After explosive, oil boom-related growth, the McKenzie County School District needed an aggressive plan that would meet their space needs and integrate a new and improved academic program. From the beginning, the McKenzie County School District envisioned their new high school as a “Beacon on the Prairie.” The high school facilitates the This Century collaborative learning environments and flexible education needed in the modern-day delivery of academics while also creating a renewed sense of place and identity that embraces the entire community. The school is designed to easily facilitate collaborative learning environments and flexible educational space needed in the modern-day delivery of education.

Open, Light Filled Through a series of working sessions, the final design centered around an open, light-filled concourse that greets students, staff, and visitors. This concourse works as an organizing “street” that connects the main entry and administration area, the athletics area, theatre, music/art wing, cafeteria, and classroom wing. This arrangement provides clarity of circulation, provides daylight to all educational spaces while at the same time enhancing security, and promotes key areas as destinations while maximizing flexibility. Classrooms are arranged around shared common teaching space acts as a transition point between the active zones and the classrooms. This flexible space provides breakout teaching areas for small and large group teaching opportunities.

Pre-Referendum The high school was the first phase in an extensive Educational Master Plan developed by JLG and the district. The urgency of exponential growth in the county and student populations prompted the McKenzie County School District to initiate an aggressive plan to meet current and future needs throughout the school district. After an unprecedented 90% passage, the new 800 student high school facility eliminates portable classrooms and was fast-tracked to meet its goal of occupying the building during the 2015/2016 year.

Community Focused The district envisioned a building that spoke to its future while maintaining a firm hold on the history of its region. The community rose to the occasion, led by a progressive school board, to provide for and improve the education of its youth with an eye on the future. The result is a building that meets the educational needs of the district, but just as importantly, recognizes the importance of a high school to a community’s sense of place and identity. The design offers exciting and modern athletic facilities fused with the adjacent Event Center for an unprecedented teaching experience and gathering venue. This space allows for flexible and uninterrupted use as a teaching experience and community event space. At the heart of the facility, a state-of-the-art theater provides new opportunities for the students while enhancing opportunities for the community to engage with the arts.

Awards & Certifications

  • 2017 – AIA North Dakota: Honor Award

Completion Date


"We got the greatest kids in the world we got to give them the greatest education in the world. And that's what this is all about isn't it? This is bricks and mortar but this an investment in our future. Our future is these amazing young people and they're going to do great things."
– Senator John Hoeven